Claude Julien’s leash on Milan Lucic, Ryan Spooner, and David Pastrnak is slackening.
Julien refused to allow Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr to chew up his threesome that regularly fights to get pucks out of the defensive zone.
But Julien had no issues with rolling Spooner’s line against any of Florida’s other three units on Tuesday. When you put winners in nets in the third period and overtime, like they’ve done in the last two games, your coach will call your names for critical late-game shifts.
“It’s not because you don’t trust them, it’s just a lack of experience,” Julien said of shielding Spooner’s unit from Barkov’s line. “They played against their second, they played against their third line. That didn’t matter to me. In my mind, I felt they could hold their own. They’re getting better all the time, too.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. From the first time they were together, it was always a real tough matchup for me to make sure it was really the right situation. Now I’m a little bit more flexible because they’re getting better and they’re getting more experience.”
At 9:47 of the third, Pastrnak tied the game at 2. With 1:09 left in regulation, Lucic whistled the puck through Roberto Luongo for the deciding goal in a 3-2 win over Florida at TD Garden.
It was the second straight game the line delivered a 2-point result to their teammates. On Sunday against Carolina, Spooner scored the opening goal in the first period. In overtime, Pastrnak launched a one-timer past Anton Khudobin to give the Bruins a 2-1 win.
“That line probably has been our most productive line in the month of March,” Julien said.
Offensively, the group has been a flammable mix. Spooner and Pastrnak combine for tons of speed, skill, and creativity. Lucic is the north-south train that tracks down loose pucks and goes to the front of the net. They create scoring chances out of dead-water situations.
Defensively, they shoot themselves in the foot enough that their coach has to manage their shifts. It is a trick-or-treat line. As explosive as it is on offense, it is always a turnover, blown assignment, or picked-off chip off the boards away from fishing pucks out of its own net.
Julien preaches offense from defense. The latter does not come easily for the line.
“We can’t get caught running around,” said Lucic. “We’ve got to make a good, strong play and get going in transition. That’s the most important thing when you’re in the D-zone and stuck in the D-zone — cutting them off and making a good play to where you can get moving the other way. It seems like we’re not there yet. We’re getting hemmed in a little longer than we’d like. It’s something we’re going to have to get better at if we want to contribute to this team with five games left and into the playoffs. You don’t want to restrict Claude from putting you out there just because of that.”
They found their rhythm in the third period, especially Lucic. For the first two periods, Julien didn’t think Lucic was skating with enough purpose. That changed in the third. So did the line’s play.
“At one point, I told him he had to move his feet a little bit more,” Julien said. “I didn’t think he was skating as well as we’ve seen him skate in the first part of the game. Once he got his feet going, the whole line just kind of changed. That’s the kind of difference he can make.”
With his team trailing, 2-1, Lucic chased down Pastrnak’s cross-corner dump. As Lucic dished to Spooner, Pastrnak broke for the net. Pastrnak got a piece of Spooner’s shot and deflected the puck into the net to tie the game, 2-2.
Before his game-winner, Lucic and Pastrnak forced a Florida turnover in the neutral zone. Once Lucic gained the offensive zone, he attacked the high slot before Dmitry Kulikov and Alex Petrovic could close their gap. With the defensemen caught in no-man’s land, Lucic whipped a low wrister through Luongo at 18:51.
“You’re kind of swarmed and you’re just getting the puck on net,” Lucic said. “Thankfully it went for myself for a big goal and a big win.”
The Bruins are in good shape for a playoff spot. They remain 3 points ahead of the Senators, who have one game in hand. The Bruins are just 2 points south of Detroit, their opponent on Thursday.
With the postseason approaching, the Bruins’ bosses have a tough decision to make. Spooner’s line is ripping it up offensively. But Julien has two lines he can trust in defensive situations: the units centered by Patrice Bergeron and Carl Soderberg. Spooner’s unit is too hit or miss to deploy for an important defensive-zone faceoff.
As good as the line has been together, its time as a line may be at an end. Brett Connolly is close to playing. David Krejci is best at center instead of right wing. The Bruins would like to see Krejci center Lucic and Connolly to see what they could do.
As coaches say, it’s a nice problem to have. It’s certainly better than looking up at Ottawa, which is where the Bruins might have been without Spooner’s line making an offensive ruckus.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.