BOSTON There have been times this season that Johnny Boychuk didnt much resemble the playoff sensation he was last year.
Boychuk burst onto the scene in the second half of last year, paired with Zdeno Chara in the playoffs for the Bruins and really emerged as a top defenseman, an ice-time workhorse with some very real upward potential on the power play.
Through the first half of this season, though, there were constant defense rotations and none of the Bs blueline corps got truly comfortable. That kind of constant upheaval might have played into the 27-year-old battling consistency in his first full-scale NHL campaign.
The big, booming shot from the point, the physicality and highlight-reel hits, and the steady defensive presence were there in spurts, but not on a nightly basis as Boychuk tried to find his niche.
But Boychuk has scored a couple of big goals on the most recent homestand for the Bruins with successful bombs against the Canadiens and Blackhawks and ratcheted up the physicality with only a handful of games remaining until the postseason.
Were just trying to do the simple things, said Boychuk, who's still third on the Bruins with 108 blocked shotsand among the most frequent hitters when it comes to physicality andbody checks. Were just trying to get pucks deep and try to play it like a playoff-type of game, and thats what weve been doing. Its been working quite well lately.
The Bs defenseman has three goals and 11 assists on the season while logging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been another step up for him.
Boychuk has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last eight games along with a plus-5 over that time, and has benefited from getting reunited with Chara at just the right time of the season. Hes also been part of a defense renaissance in Boston over the last several games thats really allowed the goaltenders to shine. The B's have allowed only three goals over the last five games, with a pair of shutouts thrown in.
Plenty of the zeroes on the scoreboard have to do with Tim Thomas hitting another proficient stretch between the pipes but it also involves Boychuk and Co. getting to the right spots on the ice and avoiding problematic screens on their goaltender.
Thomas said the simple action of knocking a shooter off-balance before he releases a shot can really disrupt things for other hockey teams, and give the Bs goaltender the kind of weak offensive bid that they can gobble up with ease.
Those are the kind of subtle defensive actions a team can perfect once theyve pieced together consistent defensive pairings, and given those players time to really hone their chemistry together.
Thats the kind of sweet spot that the Boychuk and the rest of the Bs defensemen are headed toward now that the pairings seem to be getting set in cement.
Eventually as the year goes on theres a little bit of chemistry there. Thats what youre trying to build, a little bit of stability as you move on to the playoffs, said coach Claude Julien. And right now I think the pairs that youve seen have been pretty good together. Thats not to say there wont be other people stepping in, but we like our pairs right now.
That doesnt mean were not going to change and make adjustments as we move forward here in different situations of games, but I think were feeling more and more comfortable with the guys that we have playing together.
More importantly, the Bruins' defensemen are contributing offensively. And with that, Boychuk is also looking more and more like that difference-maker from last years playoff run in Boston.