Johnny Rocket on Point
NEW YORK, NY - Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk is usually known for his rugged toughness.
He's the type of player that would dive in front of a Zdeno Chara 108 mile-an-hour blast if he had to.
When he was hurting after blocking a shot on a shift in the first round of the playoffs against Toronto, he powered through - essentially hunched over and with only one leg able to skate - thwarting another shot attempt, sliding to the boards, inching his way back in front of Tuukka Rask, before the puck finally got out of the zone.
"You try to just block anything and do anything. You’re not really doing any good if you’re lying down,” the blueliner had said.
Through 10 games of the postseason, Boychuk leads the league with 37 blocked shots. He blocked seven in that overtime win against Toronto alone, at least two coming on the warrior-like shift. He has blocked nine in the second round against New York.
Along with being a shot-blocking machine, the defenseman is also known for his rocket of a slapshot.
But - he's not usually known for his scoring touch.
The defense alone has five of Boston's 10 goals in three games against the Rangers, and 11 of their 30 points. Boychuk has two goals this series, both coming in his past two games.
The goals have come from the point - and not off his slapshot, but a powerful wrister.
"We used to call him Johnny One-timer because all he did was tickle the rafters and shoot it as hard as he could," joked teammate Shawn Thornton. "But he's been wristing it a few times now. I hope he figures it out, that getting it through is better than breaking somebody's leg."
An element present on nearly every Boychuk goal has been the traffic in front by the forwards, expertly posting themselves in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Mostly, the blueliner just has to find the back of the net.
"You know, just hitting the net I guess, and sometimes it’s luck," said Boychuk, after netting goal No. 3 in the Game Two 5-2 win at TD Garden. "Just getting shots on net and hitting the net. Better chance to score when you hit the net."
The defenseman has always added a steady shot-blocking, shutdown element to the Bruins' back end, ever since gaining full-time status in Boston, but his offensive contributions have come with more experience, Coach Julien said.
"You've seen him in pain a lot of times from blocking shots; you've also seen the wrist shot. I think it's understanding that things close up pretty quickly, not just for the shooting lane, but also to the front of the net," said Julien, on Boychuk's growth in that aspect of his game.
"You can get traffic there and sometimes there's just enough for a screen, sometimes there's too much that the puck can't get through. He's made some good decisions on picking when to release quickly."
"[Tuesday] night, when he's taking that snapshot, we know he's got a great shot," added Julien. "I see a guy that's really putting a lot behind it, in other words, shooting to score."
"I don't think I saw that all year this year, a lot of times it was kind of a slapshot with maybe half of the strength he can put behind it. But he's shooting to score now, and he's been a little bit unlucky with some of the posts, but he's also been fortunate to score some big goals for us."
While the increased output in goals has come, Boychuk could have even more than the four sitting next to his name on the stat sheet. He's hit at least a handful of posts in the playoffs.
"Well, that's what experience does for anybody," said Coach Julien, of Boychuk growing in his game. "I think he's no different than anybody else. He's paid his dues in the minors, he's come up. Even a couple years ago, we had a lot of confidence in him. He got lots of minutes out there. He continues to grow."
"He was extremely good defensively a couple of years ago when we won the Cup, but this year he has that extra confidence in being able to give us some offense as well, with his shot and decision making in the offensive zone."
The ability of the blueliners, like Boychuk, in this series, to contribute offensively has come from utilizing the points more, an approach that proves especially useful with the shot-blocking that New York is known for (they led the playoffs as a team with 161 blocked shots in the first round).
"We've just used them a lot more. The biggest thing is our guys are finding ways to get pucks through," said Coach, of using the points. "I've always said this team [New York] is probably one of the best teams in blocking shots and getting into the shooting lanes."
"That was one of the things we talked about before the series started and if we're going to get shots through, we can't afford to hold onto the puck for too long on the back end; we've got to release it quick."
With the upped production from the defensemen, we've seen the pace being quickly pushed up ice, especially as they gain more confidence with that aspect of their game.
"I think they're doing a pretty good job of jumping into the rushes. Us as forwards, we're trying to find them because we know how they get you the puck and there have been a lot this playoffs so far," said David Krejci, the NHL's current playoff scoring leader with 16 points (5 goals, 11 assists).
"It's nice, but I hope Johnny keeps shooting his wrist shot, no slapshots," the center laughed, obviously with full knowledge of just how hard his blasts can be, having taken one off the leg earlier in the season.
"It's good to see for defensemen to step up as well, put some pucks in the net, take some pressure off the forwards. It's pretty good."