By Sarah Kwak
CHICAGO — Unlike the comics, or, say, the NBA Finals, playoff hockey is wonderfully unpredictable. It doesn’t always feature the same old heroes every night. It’s part of hockey’s appeal, the nervous anticipation of waiting to see who will carry the game on his stick. Maybe it’s the most valuable player, but then again, maybe it isn’t. In fact, as the postseason goes along, deeper into the second month, the stars rarely shine the brightest. As the playoffs churn on and on, work from the bottom half of the depth charts begins making the difference.
Deep, deep, deep into Game 1, Chicago’s Andrew Shaw -- and his shinpad -- won it. And deep into Game 2, Boston's Daniel Paille, a bottom six staple in Boston, earned his team the ever-important split on the road by scoring the winner, a fierce wrister, at 13:48 of the first overtime period.
A costly turnover by the Blackhawks’ Brandon Bollig, who failed to clear the puck, helped Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid push the puck up to Tyler Seguin. With pressure coming fast, Seguin fed a smooth cross-ice pass to Paille, who beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford on his glove side.
“That’s what happens in the playoffs,” Paille said. “The top two lines are going to do everything for you, and the difference is going to be the bottom two.”
Indeed, Paille and his linemates Seguin and center Chris Kelly made all the difference for the Bruins on Saturday night. They produced both goals for Boston, as Paille’s work on the forecheck created Kelly’s tying goal in the second period. When nothing else seemed to be working, and Boston was looking lethargic and sloppy throughout the entire first period, Julien played his hunch and stuck the trio together.
“I know that Dan is a great skater, can make a lot of things happen,” Julien said. “Seguin after the first period was one of the guys that picked up his game. Kelly was one of the guys that was good right from the start. I put those three guys together, and they answered.”
Sometimes that’s all it takes. Chemistry built over time is important, of course. Few players understand that as well as Paille. For the better part of two years, he has played with winger Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell on the “best fourth line in hockey,” as it’s been dubbed. They know each others’ games, their tendencies. They had been valuable assets for Boston, particularly in their series against the Rangers, producing two game-winners in that series.
But when Campbell went down with a broken leg in the Bruins’ series against Pittsburgh, Julien took the opportunity to switch up his bottom six. Paille has jumped around for the last couple of games, which is something he says he’s used to. Despite playing largely on the fourth line in Boston, he points out that he’s spent the better part of his career playing with plenty of different guys. “I’ve learned to adjust to different players,” he said.
It’s easy for a player like Paille to make chemistry with others because in the end, effort has a way of paying off no matter what. And the 29-year-old native of Welland, Ontario, is never short on effort. He’s invaluable to the Bruins on the penalty kill, which has been effective 87.9 percent of the time this postseason, and at some of the most important moments of the season, he’s been the offensive spark. Paille now is tied with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron on the team in game-winners this postseason, behind Nathan Horton, who has three.
“I think he’s been our unsung hero all year long,” top-six winger Milan Lucic says. “He scored some big goals during the year, scored a big goal in New York series. He’s been a big part of our team since we got him. It’s great to see him get rewarded for his hard work.”