The NHL’s playoff history book is speckled with guys who parlayed modest regular seasons into heroic springs.
Third-liners who became first stars in the games that matter most. People such as Maxime Talbot, John Tonelli, Claude Lemieux, Bob Gainey, Kirk Maltby and Martin Gelinas. They never led their respective teams in scoring during the campaign, but their style of play was a perfect fit for the gruelling post-season.
The Senators believe their third line — from left to right, Jarkko Ruutu, Chris Kelly and Chris Neil — is of that mould.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” coach Cory Clouston said when asked if his Fine Grind Line was built for the playoffs.
“For the most part, that’s why we left them together. That line itself might be the most consistent line we kept together throughout the season.
“If things started to go a little bit south, whether it was from game to game or within a game, often we’d put those three back together. Whether they’d give us one shift or a good period or finish the game out, they were a line we often relied on to give us some momentum.
“Each guy brings a little bit of something different,” added Clouston.
“(Right wing) Chris (Neil) is obviously a physical guy who finishes his checks (and brings) a little bit of an intimidation factor. Kells thinks the game very, very well. He can anticipate. And Ruuts can be an agitator. All three of them have a pretty good touch around the net and they play a similar style, they like to play a cycle game. Very aggressive on the forecheck. All three can be physical players. And they’re responsible defensively as well. You can put them out against the top line and be very comfortable with that. And they’re not going to sit back. They’re going to go out there and attack and create offence, as well.
“I just think they’ve got a real nice mix there to give them success.”
Ruutu says the simplicity of the line’s game suits it to the playoffs.
Under Pens’ skin
A former Penguin who signed with the Sens in 2008, Ruutu downplays his ability to get under an opponent’s skin. You have to know there will be more than one occasion during the series when he’ll have a Pittsburgh player wanting to tear him into shreds.
“I don’t really think about it too much, especially against Pittsburgh,” Ruutu said. “They know me pretty well. I don’t think it’s that big of a factor, but every guy who’s not playing well or getting frustrated it’s going to affect. I don’t think about it at all. It’s more concentrating on the puck and playing the game right.”
And picking your spots.
“You have to see their frustration level. If they’re not frustrated, you’re wasting your time,” Ruutu said. “If you’re up, you don’t want to wake up the sleeping bear.
“It’s kind of feeling the game, how it goes. Once the emotions get involved, that’s when it’s time.”
— Don Brennan