There is no denying the fact that Boston's depth was the first and foremost reason behind their remarkable run to a Stanley Cup championship last summer. The B's utilized consistent contributions on a night-in and night-out basis from not only their first two offensive units, but also their third.
Through the injuries the B's endured during their quest to end a city's 39-year Stanley Cup drought, the third line remained the same from the end of the regular season and throughout most of the playoffs. The members of such a line? The durable and versatile Rich Peverley (who would later fill in for a concussed Nathan Horton in the Finals), hard-nosed pivot Chris Kelly and the offensive enigma known as Michael Ryder.
The trio would combine for 50 goals and 60 assists during the regular season, and add 17 tallies and 25 helpers in the playoffs during 2010-2011. This unit not only provided offense for the Black and Gold, but timely scoring in a few crucial moments of the post-season. The most obvious examples? Michael Ryder's Game 4 overtime winner in Montreal, Chris Kelly's third period go-ahead goal late in Game 7 against the Habs, and Rich Peverley’s two-goal outburst against the Canucks in Game 4 of the Finals.
That line's ability to not only contribute on the offensive end if the ice, but being equally as defensively responsible was without doubt it's best quality. The luxury -- one that most coaches do not have the benefit of -- of having three lines he could rely on in any situation thrown at him allowed Bruins' bench boss Claude Julien to lengthen his playoff bench, while other coaches were shortening theirs. This coupled with the conditioning of his players allowed the B's to wear down their opponents and consistently keep fresh legs on the ice.
After Ryder's departure for the greener (in his eyes) pastures of Dallas, and Peverley's promotion to the top six, Boston's third line looks nearly completely different, just one season later.
The incumbent Chris Kelly has now found himself slotted alongside second-stint Bruin Brian Rolston and yet another enigmatic forward, Benoit Pouliot.
While Kelly has been a consistent third line player for the B's, Benoit Pouliot has found himself juggled up and down the lineup after a rash of injuries hit Boston this winter. Even when playing together (with a plethora of players getting a shot at filling out the trio) Kelly and Pouliot could never quite match the same type of contributions that last year's third line was capable of. That is, until the arrival of 39-year old Brian Rolston. The native traded in his blue and orange Isles sweater to once again wear the eight-spoked "B" by way of a trade deadline deal orchestrated by General Manager Peter Chiarelli, a deal that saw only two low-level prospects head to New York for he and defenseman Mike Mottau.
Coming to the Hub for the second time in his illustrious year NHL career -- the first was from 200-2004 – the Flint, Michigan native was hoping to revitalize his hockey career in a city he once called home. It's been "so far, so good" for the wiley veteran who has seen a dramatic increase in his overall play while posting 12 points (3 goals/9 assists) in only 15 games with the Bruins. Rolston's presence has not only helped himself, but also his new linemates as both Kelly (3 goals/4 assists) and Pouliot (3 goals/4 assists) have begun to produce at an exponentially higher level over their past five games.
Now, with only seven games left on the docket before the second season kicks off once again, I ask you this: Is it possible that this year's third line could be better than that of just one season ago? Does this trio have the potential to provide the B's with the same type of game-changing efforts that were so commonplace in Boston during last year's playoffs? We will all soon find out, folks.