With Sean Kuraly at center, Boston’s 3rd line has finally found an identity – and is catching fire at right time

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

His struggles this season notwithstanding, something was going to have to go very, very wrong somewhere along the line in 2021 if Sean Kuraly wasn't penciled somewhere into Bruce Cassidy's lineup come the postseason.

For years now, Kuraly has excelled as Boston's fourth-line pivot — with his blend of speed and size allowing him to thrive as a "one-man cycle" in the offensive zone, as Cassidy described it back in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even though Kuraly has only lit the lamp 23 times over his NHL career, the Dublin, Ohio native seems to pick a great time to land his punches in the O-zone. Through 46 playoff games, Kuraly has scored nine times and recorded 19 points — with most of those tallies coming in either one-goal contests, deadlocked bouts or pivotal contests in the span of a seven-game series.

Add in Kuraly's skills on the PK, and the 28-year-old forward was going to be a relied-upon stalwart in Boston's bottom-six corps this postseason, even if this COVID-impacted season hasn't always gone according to plan for him.

Be it a lack of tangible offensive production (four points in first 35 games) or struggles with tilting the ice back in Boston's favor during their (admittedly daunting) matchups against top-six foes, Kuraly found himself bumped out of his fourth-line center spot down the stretch — making a switch over to wing once Curtis Lazar arrived via trade from Buffalo last month. Given Kuraly's natural talents, keeping him as a straight-line, puck-hounding presence on the wing seemed like a natural fit, especially alongside other hard-nosed skaters like Lazar and Chris Wagner.

But Cassidy had another gig in mind for his Kuraly. Sure, staying in the fourth-line pivot spot hadn't worked out — but what about a promotion?

It might seem like a bit of an odd path to take on the depth chart given some underwhelming results - but with Charlie Coyle struggling to gain traction at the 3C spot and Nick Ritchie suddenly a man without a line following the arrival of Taylor Hall, Cassidy set his sights on crafting a new identity on a third line that's spent most of the past four months without one.