( Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images )

By: Ryan Duffy | Follow Me On Twitter @Rduffy26

Ever since David Krejci departed from the Boston Bruins during the last offseason, many fans have cried out for management to trade for a second-line center. While rumors circulated that the Bruins were pursuing a No. 2 center like Claude Giroux and JT Miller ahead of the NHL trade deadline, Erik Haula has nearly flawlessly filled the position for Boston. Haula has impressed this season as he’s managed to handle top-six minutes and contribute offensively since the turn of the new year.

While many may say that playing with superstar wingers Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak have elevated Haula’s play, the same can be said vice versa. Haula has been a facilitator on the second line as he’s been finding Hall and Pastrnak in open areas. Over Boston’s last 20 games, the team has been on a heater with a 15-4-1 record, and Haula has eight goals and 11 assists.

“For our line, we get into trouble when we’re circling around, and we’re not stopping on pucks.” Taylor Hall said following the Bruins’ 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders back on March 26th. “We have such good speed, all three of us, that we can be really good forecheckers and create chances that way. Then the other stuff will come off the rush, all those plays.”

Haula has notably been defensively responsible on a line that could be considered a liability in their own zone with Hall and Pastrnak, who are not necessarily known for their defensive prowess. “As a centerman, with players like Pasta and I, you’re not babysitting, but you’re taking care of things, and you’re the safety valve a lot of times, and he’s been great at that,” Hall said.

Boston will be without leading goal scorer David Pastrnak for the foreseeable future after sustaining a lower-body injury in Columbus Monday night. Despite being without Pastrnak against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night, Hall and Haula both had strong performances and were able to get on the score sheet when Hall picked up an assist on Haula’s 13th goal of the season. They will need to step up their game even more so tonight as they match up against their divisional rival, Tampa Bay Lightning, at Amalie Arena.

The winner of tonight’s matchup will hold the third seed in the Atlantic Division, with each team having 11 games remaining in the regular season. Per Friday’s morning skate in Florida, Haula and Hall will be skating alongside Marc McLaughlin, who scored his first NHL goal against the New Jersey Devils last week. It will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old handles playing in the Bruins’ top-six tonight.

As Boston approaches the Stanley Cup Playoffs in May, the Bruins have seemed to solidify their top three lines that can contribute offensively. This is something the team has been lacking over their last couple of playoff runs. So long as their offensive production continues, Boston will be well equipped to be a threat in the Eastern Conference. Haula will need to be responsible on both ends of the ice if Boston has aspirations to have a deep playoff run.