David Krejci, Milan Lucic Finding Playoff Form at Right Time for Boston Bruins

Al DanielCorrespondent IIApril 6, 2014

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 4: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a hat trick with teammate Milan Lucic #17 against the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden on March 4, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

David Krejci and Milan Lucic, the Boston Bruins’ inseparable first-line associates, answered the last call to simulate a playoff bout before the 2014 postseason begins.

Facing potential playoff adversaries, they each drenched a drought Thursday and Saturday to help secure first place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

More critically, they took due charge to restore Boston’s winning habits after a two-game, midweek winless skid of 0-1-1. As brief as that slump was, it was beginning to expose a modicum of top-line contributions late in the team’s preceding 16-game unbeaten tear (March 2 to March 30).

Lucic tallied no goals and two assists in the nine games leading up to Thursday’s trip to Toronto. Krejci had sprinkled four helpers and only two scoring collaborations with Lucic in that span.

They teamed up to turn a pivot back in the right direction during Thursday’s third period. Lucic converted Krejci’s feed to saw a 3-1 deficit in half, beginning a point-salvaging stanza in an eventual 4-3 overtime falter.

That regulation point nudged the Bruins to within one win of the conference crown when they hosted the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Working with Loui Eriksson, in lieu of the still-ailing Jarome Iginla, Krejci (three points) and Lucic (two points) saturated the scoresheet for a 5-2 triumph.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 5: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins gets shoved against Ray Emery #29 and Zac Rinaldo #36 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the TD Garden on April 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Given the way they competed, they could have cultivated more than they did Saturday. Not all of their stimulating onslaughts amounted to production, but when they did, they jutted with momentous implications.

Krejci snapped his 16-game goal-less skid for Saturday’s icebreaker with 15:56 gone in the opening frame. With all three first-line forwards forking at the biscuit in traffic, the center lassoed Eriksson’s rebound and spooned it home.

The Flyers deleted the resultant deficit less than a period later, only to see Boston’s top troika retort less than a minute later.

It took one faceoff and 19 seconds for Lucic and Krejci to exchange roles as playmaker and finisher, restoring Boston’s lead to 2-1. In turn, they punctuated one form of a follow-up play by stunting and reversing any momentum that stemmed from Philadelphia’s goal.

Another 19:30 fell off the game clock before they connected on the other kind of follow-up shift.

This time, the Bruins were coming off a go-ahead slug via point patroller Johnny Boychuk and safeguarding a 3-2 edge. That lead stood for 31 ticks before Lucic augmented it to 4-2 by polishing a textbook end-to-end rush.

With that, the unit in question emboldened a new helping of momentum for Boston. The play fostered the first multigoal difference of the day with 5:35 to spare in regulation.

By burying Torey Krug’s lateral left feed, Lucic now has three goals in April, matching his total output from March. His four points over the last two tilts double his total from the previous nine spanning March 17 through April 2.

Krejci did not earn a point on that injection of insurance, but he served a visible role in the play. He cut to Ray Emery’s porch and legally inhibited the Flyer goaltender’s read on Lucic’s shot.

That was not the only play of the day from this line that had everything but the statistical individual gains. Those who witnessed Saturday’s action saw Krejci and Lucic afford themselves or a teammate eight shots on net from within 22 feet or less.

Those close shaves included a bid by Eriksson in the last minute of both the first and second period. Another was a 12-foot backhander by Krejci at 5:36 of the closing stanza.

At 11:58 of the third, Krejci forced Emery to summon a whistle with an attempted tip-in on a rushing Lucic feed.

He was on the porch for that one, the same area he occupied on his next shift for Lucic’s second goal. Krejci had been knocking, and his colleague entered to help crack the code for insurance.

Consider the statement confirmed.

Given that the Maple Leafs and Flyers are still contending for playoff spots, that pseudo-playoff compete level shone with bonus radiance. Whether it draws immediate gratification or not, that persistence will be a must for the first-line fixtures in the real tournament.

They will not need to cultivate the same results as Saturday’s every night but the same shift-to-shift effort at a minimum. It will be on the second-liners and depth forwards to cooperate and ensure that competitive zeal trickles down.

Krejci’s history as the league’s top playoff producer in 2011 (23 points) and 2013 (25 points) is well documented. The same goes for Lucic’s irreproachable output in his team’s recent four-round runs.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 5: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins scores a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at the TD Garden on April 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

But that does not guarantee another springtime sizzle in 2014. Both players need to rev up their rhythm while approaching and crossing the bridge to this year’s playoffs. So much the better if they do so against other prospective playoff participants, let alone potential playoff opponents.

As the ninth and seventh overall seeds in the conference entering Sunday night’s action, Toronto and Philadelphia fit that mold. To a lesser degree, so does this Tuesday’s opponent in Minnesota.

The Wild will not likely serve as a roadblock on the trek to the Stanley Cup, but they are clutching a Western Conference wild-card berth. Sitting fourth in the Central Division, they must keep warding off Dallas (fifth in the Central) and Phoenix (fourth in the Pacific.)

Translation: Tuesday will grant the Bruins one more opportunity to authentically simulate a confrontation featuring a desperate NHL middleweight. The next time that happens, they will be pursuing the same basic stakes in a best-of-seven with the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

Unless Iginla is back in the lineup, Tuesday will also be another chance to perk up the likes of Eriksson in the process. Even if that opportunity does not arise, Saturday may have marked a crucial psychological booster for one of the lower-line wingers.

Eriksson picked up a playmaker hat trick Saturday with a helper on Krejci’s icebreaker and each of Lucic’s tallies. With a fourth assist on Chris Kelly’s empty-netter, he shattered a three-game scoreless skid and matched his cumulative output from the previous nine games.

Per the team’s official Twitter feed, head coach Claude Julien subsequently said, “now you’re seeing the real Loui…he’s such a smart player, he adapts to any line he’s with.”

Whether Eriksson goes to the second or third line next, Julien will certainly bank on him sustaining that adaptability. The best-case scenario will have the Swedish winger blending that flexibility with a newfound nugget of conviction.

He is entitled to that conviction because of the way he assimilated into the fastidious flow with Krejci and Lucic. Provided all three sustain that flow, regardless of linemates, the full Boston strike force should similarly tap into infectious assurance.


Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.