BOSTON -- Until the season is over for the Boston Bruins, the question will linger: Did general manager Peter Chiarelli make the team better when he pulled off a blockbuster trade last summer?
It's an argument, or discussion, that shouldn't even take place. Yes, the Bruins are a better team with Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith in the lineup. Former Bruins forward Tyler Seguin enjoyed a successful season with the Dallas Stars, but the contributions from Eriksson and Smith have been critical to Boston's success all season.
Eriksson and Smith have fit into the Bruins' system perfectly, and their contributions have been on display in the first two games of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Eriksson has played a solid two-way game. He has been physical, and his instincts have been keen in all areas of the ice. Smith has played well too, especially going up against Detroit's top line with Pavel Datsyuk.
All in all, the Bruins are receiving exactly what they need from Eriksson and Smith.
It took a while this season for Eriksson to become comfortable in his new surroundings, in part because he suffered a pair of concussions earlier this season. He started to play at his best prior to the Olympics, and he carried that into the Winter Games for Sweden. When Eriksson returned with a silver medal, that confidence gave him a big boost for the remainder of the regular season.
"I'm feeling good, during the Olympics and after that, and I'm really excited to be in the playoffs now and try to win this," Eriksson said Monday. "It was a good game yesterday to tie it up 1-1 in the series, and we're ready to get going tomorrow."
Bruins coach Claude Julien normally does not single out players during the playoffs, but when asked about Eriksson, Julien was more than willing.
"We've been talking about Loui for the last month and a half here as if he's a surprise. But Loui has just been good for us ever since he got over those injuries," Julien said. "He's a player that everybody from our organization saw him as being. He's great up front, he's a smart player, he manages the puck well, he doesn't make many mistakes, and he's a guy that's always been good in front of the net as well."
On Boston's second goal during its 4-1 win in Game 2 on Sunday, the Bruins were on the power play when Eriksson did all the grunt work in front of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard that led to Smith's goal. As a scramble ensued, Eriksson took out three Detroit defenders, including Howard, as Smith crashed the net and pumped in the loose puck.
"Loui is unbelievable, and I don't think he probably gets the credit he deserves here," Smith said. "You know he's an unbelievable player, and just because he's been out of the lineup due to injuries this year I think he kind of gets looked over. But he's an ultratalented guy, and you know as soon as he gets the puck he's doing something special with it."
When Eriksson first arrived in Boston, Julien had the veteran forward playing on the team's second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. While Eriksson was sidelined with his first concussion, Julien inserted Smith onto that second unit, and that trio quickly found chemistry.
"He just kept improving. Even after the break -- well, not a break for him -- but after the Olympics for him, I thought he really got better and really picked up his game," Bergeron said. "It was a tough year for him with the injuries, so it's tough to get going when that happens. I think he's a terrific player. He's always at the right spot. He's got a great hockey IQ. He's making some great plays that are often going unnoticed. But for us as teammates, we see them and it goes a long way."
Many compared Eriksson's two-way ability to Bergeron's.
"That's what I mean by all the little details that goes unnoticed, but not by us," Bergeron said. "I think we saw him and we keep seeing him and right now he's skating well and he's making some great plays offensively. But he's keeping with those great plays defensively."
Eriksson has already proved his worth. He is making a big impact in Boston, and the Bruins are a better overall team.