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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nathan Beaulieu The X-Factor

Carey Price made 26 saves and Thomas Vanek scored a pair of insurance goals, the last one into an empty net after goals by Lars Eller early in the first period and Max Pacioretty in the second frame as the Canadiens took advantage of the Bruins’ missed opportunities to win 4-1 on home ice and force a Game 7. This will be the ninth time in 34 playoff meetings that the two fierce rivals have gone the distance. 

Still, the biggest story of last night's win might have been the decision that head coach Michel Therrien made prior to the do-or-die game. Therrien pulled a bold move and inserted rookie defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the line-up to take Douglas Murray's spot on the third pairing alongside veteran Mike Weaver. Beaulieu made his coach look very good by chipping in an assistalong with a shot and a +2 rating in 9:36 of action. Beaulieu was on for 58.3% of 5-on-5 shot attempts when he was on the ice in his playoff debut for the Canadiens in the win. 

Nathan Beaulieu, a 21-year-old rearguard, appeared in his first playoff game and also saw two minutes of power-play time. Beaulieu has played in 23 regular-season games during cups of coffee over the previous two seasons and had four points, all assists, with the big team. This season, he mostly played with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, notching 7 goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 57 games to go along with a 33 penalty minutes and a miserable -19 rating.

Beaulieu, who used to play for assistant coach Gerard Gallant with the Saint John Sea Dogs, played less than six minutes in the first two periods, yet his impact on the game was enormous in that time. He was fortunate to be on the ice for the game's first goal potted by Lars Eller, following a mistake by rookie defenseman Kevan Miller, but the second goal was a direct product of the poise he played with all evening when he spotted Max Pacioretty all alone in the neutral zone and sent him on a breakaway.

A very adept skater, the left-handed blue liner has the uncanny ability to make a good first pass and position himself well in the defensive zone to help his defensive partner. In his own zone, Beaulieu gets to the puck first, and coupled with no fumbling around, it allowed the third pairing to avoid getting hemmed into our own zone and icing the puck desperately. Beaulieu brings good puck movement and transition, or the opposite of what Douglas Murray offers.

I personally don't think we can understate how important Beaulieu's presence was on that third pair last night. Instead of being a brutally exploitable match-up for the Bruins' third and fourth lines in on our own zone, as it was with Francis Bouillon, and especially with Douglas Murray, the Bruins really couldn't control the puck down low to exploit the cycle and get good scoring chances from the point. We had three reliable defensive pairings for the first time in the series last night and it paid off aplenty. 

While Beaulieu is still raw in his positioning, he has terrific speed that allows him to join the offensive rush coupled with a good hockey vision, an excellent puck awareness and a great passing ability. A resilient skater, Beaulieu never gives up and helped us outskate the Bruins and beat them with our biggest asset: speed.

Beaulieu will definitely be in the line-up for Game 7 in Boston tomorrow and we can be confident that Michel Therrien will not be afraid to play the rookie for about ten minutes, including time on the second power play unit.

What do you think of Nathan Beaulieu's play on Monday?

No Foolin' Fred Poulin

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