Previous trade deadlines haven’t been kind to the Bruins.
Adding Rick Nash was a strong move last season, in theory. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney paid a significant ransom for a veteran star, but Nash’s health hampered his production and eventually forced his retirement. Previous deadline moves brought Drew Stafford (2017), John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak (2016), Brett Connolly (2015), and Andrej Meszaros (2014), none of whom moved the Black and Gold needle.
It’s too early to say whether Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle can lift the Bruins like Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley did in the Stanley Cup season of 2011. These Bruins, however, are more than halfway to hockey heaven, and the two deadline pickups are a significant reason why.
Coach Bruce Cassidy called them “very, very” important to the Bruins, who will try to extend their 1-0 Eastern Conference final lead in Game 2, Sunday at 3 p.m.
“It’s been good timing all around. It’s why we’re still playing,” Cassidy said. “Carolina, St. Louis, and San Jose would say the same, that certain people stepped up at certain times. If we don’t get secondary scoring, we’re probably not having this discussion right now, so it’s a credit to them.”
The Bruins weren’t looking for superstars on Feb. 25. They did need a third-line center and a second-line right wing, two revolving-door positions at which management’s bets on young players and internal solutions came up empty. The two prime-aged players they acquired — Coyle is 27, Johansson is 28, with a combined 1,088 regular-season and 142 playoff games between them — have been productive and versatile as they hunt for their first Cup.
Coyle, snatched from the Wild for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-rounder, is tied with teammates David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron for fourth in playoff goals (six, with three assists in 14 games). Five have come at even strength. He scored twice in Game 1 of the second round against Columbus, tying the game and winning it in overtime.
Johansson, dealt by the Devils for second- and fourth-round picks, missed two playoff games with the flu but has a 3-4—7 line in 12 games. His passing and vision have helped Boston’s third line, with center Coyle and right wing Danton Heinen, create big moments.
In the clinching Game 6 at Columbus, Johansson made it 2-0 in the third period on a criss-cross zone entry with Coyle, snapping a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky. The pair also connected for Coyle’s tying goal in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets, Johansson finding him on the rush with a stellar backhand feed through a maze of defenders.
Both factored into Thursday’s Game 1 against the Hurricanes. Johansson’s steal and patient setup of Steven Kampfer created the opening goal, and his net-front putback on the power play tied the score at 2. Coyle, trusted to help the Bruins stave off a 6-on-5 attack in a 3-2 game, scored an empty-netter. The Weymouth product also has spotted in as the No. 2 right wing, helping Cassidy keep David Backes’s 35-year-old pistons firing more effectively.
“Couldn’t care less about who scores and who does what, as long as we get it done together,” said Johansson, who spent seven seasons with Washington, only to see the Capitals win it all the season after he was traded to New Jersey. “I think that’s one of the strengths of this team — that we have 20 guys that can do it. I think we’ve showed that more than once.”
Johansson impressed many of his teammates by bouncing back from a hit by Carolina’s Micheal Ferland on March 5, which sent him to the hospital. Chris Wagner, one of the hardest-hitting Bruins, called it “one of the harder hits I’ve seen all year, just how square and solid it was.” Johansson missed three weeks with a lung contusion.
Since coming alive this postseason, he has even changed Mike Milbury’s mind.
Milbury, the hard-nosed ex-Bruins defenseman and coach-turned-NBC analyst, called Johansson “marshmallow soft” on air during the first-round Toronto series, and said his play was “disconnected” and “a disappointment.” Reached in San Jose, where he is working the first two games of the Sharks-Blues series before he heads to Carolina for Games 3 and 4, Milbury didn’t walk back those comments, but he did credit Johansson for making an impact.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Milbury said. “I didn’t know he had the compete level. He seems to have ratched it up at the right time.”
Milbury still didn’t think Johansson was a good fit for Boston as a net-front presence on the first power-play unit. But Cassidy trusts him in that role. To score his game-tying PPG in Game 1, Johansson took a cross-check in the back, as anyone standing there does, and was in position to roof a loose puck over Petr Mrazek.
Wagner shares Milbury’s hometown (Walpole) and alma mater (Colgate), but not his opinion on No. 90.
“I mean, the plays he’s making right now, I don’t know how that would be considered soft,” Wagner said, referring to Johansson’s stop-and-wait pass on Kampfer’s goal. “Last night, to pull up like that when they have good back pressure, you could get hit. That’s a hit he’s willing to take. To have the poise like that to thread it through another guy’s skates, like he did against Columbus, that’s certainly not soft. And that was a pretty crispy backhand pass, right on Kamp’s tape, so yeah, doesn’t look too soft to me.”