DENVER — Craig Berube coaches as bravely and boldly as he played.
Think about it — how many National Hockey League coaches would’ve gone with a brand-new line combination in Game 2 of a second-round game?
Well, Berube went with two.
Yes, two lines that hadn’t once been constructed this whole season. And both lines played well in Thursday’s Game 2 win, notably the top line featuring Pavel Buchnevich along with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron.
The “BOP” line was boppin’.
The Blues won, 4-1, due to numerous Berube-inspired adjustments in strategy. But the impact of the top line was imperative, starting with a forceful forecheck and scoring chance in the first three minutes.
With that line on the ice, the Blues generated 14 shots (counting on-ice defensemen) — the next-highest total was six, per the stat site MoneyPuck.
“We were pretty comfortable,” Perron said after the Blues tied the series with the Avalanche. “(Our line) made some good plays. We also can be even better, which is a good sign when you play a good game. It was exciting to play with ‘Buch.’”
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On the morning of Game 2, as Perron discussed the possible contributions of his new linemate, Perron flashed a little smile.
“He’s trying to get that goal that he’s talking about a lot,” Perron shared.
The ubiquitous Buchnevich has done seemingly everything this postseason except score.
“It’s coming for him, for sure,” Perron said.
And sure enough, with the Blues up one goal in the third, Perron and Buchnevich had a two-on-one … and Perron kept the puck.
Perron shot and scored the Blues’ biggest goal of the playoffs so far.
He admitted that during the play, he actually thought about how “Buch” wants a goal.
“All the things we can think of in 2-3 seconds, it's pretty amazing,” Perron said. “But I just kind of took a step to the middle and the D didn't really come my way. If he did, I probably just slide it over there to (Buchnevich’s) stick, hoping that he scores. But it went in and it was a big goal for us — and that was important.”
There is a fine line in the playoffs between strategic and desperate. And more times than not, Berube’s moves are the former.
During the course of the night, the “BOP” boys generated a bunch of offense. Perron had a breakaway, which led to a scoring chance; later, he fed O’Reilly for a point-blank shot that Darcy Kuemper kicked aside; and on the power play, in another rare setup, Buchnevich played the point for the first time all season … and assisted Perron on a goal.
As for Buchnevich, he is such a treat to watch. I’ll never understand how the Blues were able to get him for just Sammy Blais and a second-round pick. Buchnevich, similarly to O’Reilly, makes so many subtle plays that lead to bigger plays. He’s so clever and elusive, intelligent and instinctual.
Consider that he was a huge contributor in the Game 2 win, yet didn’t even take one shot.
"He was way more involved in the offensive zone because O'Reilly and Perron — that's how they play,” Berube said. “I thought that he was really connected, had a lot more puck touches, had some chances, made some good plays all-around. I was really happy with his game."
Years ago, here at Denver's Ball Arena, the Nuggets coach was George Karl. And Karl had a line he’d use every spring: “A playoff series doesn’t start until the home team loses.”
Well, the Colorado Avalanche lost on home ice in Game 2, as Berube out-coached Jared Bednar.
And so, this series has started.