BOSTON – The Atlanta Thrashers couldn’t succeed without Rich Peverley, so they packed up and moved to Winnipeg.
Well, the story doesn’t quite go that way but after witnessing what the veteran forward did tonight in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise just might be kicking itself for letting Peverley get away.
Filling in for the injured Nathan Horton by taking the majority of the shifts available on the Bruins’ first line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, Peverley matched his goal total from the previous 21 playoff games with two goals in the Bruins’ 4-0 win over Vancouver at TD Garden.
The hot hand of Peverley helped the Bruins even the series at 2-2 heading to Rogers Arena for Game 5 Friday night.
When the stories of championship teams past are told, there’s almost always a sidebar or two about a role player like Peverley – someone who suddenly emerges from the shadows to take a starring role for at least one night. Tonight was that night for Rich Peverley.
Just this morning, Peverley talked about how he wanted to play better than he had since the postseason started. He back up his words when the Bruins needed him most.
“I think I haven’t contributed as well as I could offensively,” he said after the game. “But any time you can help out, especially in this type of environment, you want to do so.”
Peverley admitted tonight that when he first was moved from Atlanta to Boston, he wasn’t sure where he’d fit in. Quite frankly, he wasn’t the only one wondering about that. While Blake Wheeler’s trade to the Thrashers in that deal opened up a forward spot, the Bruins had earlier acquired Chris Kelly for a draft pick and they still had Gregory Campbell and Tyler Seguin to fill the other center spots in their lineup. Peverley had been playing mostly center for a number of years, although he could also play on the wing.
The adjustment didn’t go well with him scoring just four times in 23 games. It wasn’t until the tail end of the season that he found a home on a line with Kelly and Michael Ryder. That trio was dominant at times in the seven-game win against Montreal, but Peverley had scored just once since that series until tonight.
Peverley suddenly became a jack-of-all-trades in the next couple series for the Bruins. He sometimes skated on the fourth line, sometimes received spot duty on the other trios and also played on both special teams. To his credit, he didn’t let the chaotic nature of the whole thing sidetrack him.
“You want to play as much as you can. I’ve been jumping in on lines and playing power play and penalty kill,” he said. “You want to get as many minutes as you can and whatever way they come, it doesn’t matter.”
So here was his big chance to prove that he could be more than just a supporting player on a playoff team on the sport’s biggest stage. Peverley had only been in the Stanley Cup playoffs once prior. He was once a 55-point scorer for Atlanta, but had yet to show a lot of flash in a Bruins sweater.
Just 11:59 into the game, he got behind the Vancouver defense and beat goaltender Roberto Luongo 1-on-1 with a shot through the 5-hole for a 1-0 lead. He then made it 4-0 with a goal that may or may not have gone off his skate, or Ryan Kesler’s skate or … well, you get the idea.
Regardless, Peverley proved that he’s not Nathan Horton with his rocket shot and Kool Aid Man ability to barrel to the net. He’s just the type of moderately compensated, above-average talent a small-market team needs to build with who got away from one and wound up in the big city under the biggest spotlight. He played to his strengths, stayed within himself and sparked his team to a crucial victory.
Peverley might not have put Atlanta out of business, but with more performances like tonight he might end the put the Canucks’ Cup dreams to death.