- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bruce Boudreau tinkers with his lines on a nearly game-by-game basis in the regular season, and because of that nearly every forward on his Washington Capitals roster can say he played with each of his teammates.

Still, his third line - David Steckel between Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley - had almost no experience as a trio before Boudreau put them together for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers. They’ve stuck together for five games and counting, and their offense has been a vital part of the team’s franchise-record five-game playoff winning streak.

“I think we’re making simple plays and getting pucks deep,” Steckel said. “When you have three grinders on your line, you play to your strength, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With 23 goals and 53 points in the regular season, Laich had better offensive numbers than his new linemates combined. It has been Bradley and Steckel providing the goals, however, since the trio was put together.

Bradley was the hero in Game 5 against the Rangers, scoring the first two goals of the game. Steckel has scored a goal in each of the first two games of this Eastern Conference semifinal series against Pittsburgh.

“[Bradley] and I have played together on and off pretty much for the past two years, so we know each other very well,” Steckel said. “When you throw Brooks into the mix, he has more offensive talent then us, and he makes some plays that we can’t, so he brings a dynamic to the line.”

Said Laich: “I disagree with that. I think they’re both underrated offensively. I think if you ask defensemen on the other teams, maybe they’re not an [Alex] Ovechkin or [Nicklas] Backstrom or [Alexander] Semin, but they’re very tough to play against. Nobody likes when someone works hard and keeps coming after you.”

There have been 12 goals scored in this series, including four each by Ovechkin and Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby. Steckel has as many as the rest of the skaters combined. Before the series, several Caps players said it would not be the superstars’ production that decides the winner.

To this point, Washington’s third line, along with rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov, has been the biggest difference for the Caps in their two one-goal victories. In Game 1, Steckel earned the team’s red hard hat, given to the most hardworking player, and he might have been the most deserving in Game 2 - but a condition of the team’s new tradition is the guy who has it must give it up.

“I think they are playing well,” Caps captain Chris Clark said. “If you look at a lot of the third lines around the league, they have the hardest job probably out of any lines. They have to go against the best lines. They have to shut them down, but they also have to contribute offensively. I’ve been a part of one on other teams, and it is a lot of weight on your shoulders.”

Steckel, Laich and Bradley might not have played much as a group before the past five games, but they form an interesting trio in the Caps’ dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.

They sit next to one another in the far corner of the room and have a well-earned reputation as the team’s jesters.

“They’re the guys who are always chirping and making it interesting in the room,” defenseman Mike Green said. “You need guys like that, and those guys bring a great energy to our room.”

Added Steckel: “We definitely stir the pot a bit, and we definitely don’t care who it is. If you’re on the same side of the wall we’re on, you’re pretty safe. If we can see you, chances are it isn’t going to be good for you.”

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