TORONTO – Milan Lucic spent plenty of time during the NHL lockout watching TV, and got an opportunity -- for the first time -- to watch the 25 postseason games Boston played en route to the Stanley Cup championship two years ago.
And the biggest thing that struck him?
The huge starring role of his center, David Krejci. During the B's march to the title through Montreal, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Vancouver, Lucic marveled at Krejci's virtuoso performances, a body of work that was sometimes overshadowed by Nathan Horton’s Game 7 heroics and Tim Thomas’ brilliance.
Now Krejci is at it again. The playmaking Czech center capped off his second career playoff hat trick by flipping a shot past James Reimer’s short side at the 13:06 mark of overtime Wednesday, completing a hat trick and pushing Boston to 4-3 victory and a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Once again Lucic was one of the first to praise the 26-year-old center, who now has 5 goals and 10 points in four playoff games against Toronto.
“[Krejci] has got good confidence, he’s got a really good skill set and he’s showing it in this series,” said Lucic. “He might be underrated to you guys, but he’s not underrated to people in this dressing room."
Krejci led the Stanley Cup playoff field in scoring with 12 goals and 23 points in 25 games en route to the title two years ago. "Getting the chance to re-watch it, [I] remembered some of the key moments and big plays along the way," said Lucic, adding, "[Seeing] the way [Krejci] was able to step up his game, he kind of lifted the team to the Stanley Cup Finals."
This year he's once again the playoff leader with 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points in the four games so far against the Maple Leafs, who have no answer for his Pavel Datsyuk-like playmaking ability on the ice.
“I’m just trying to do my best, play as well as I possibly can and help my team win,” said Krejci, who finished with a team-high eight shots on net won 12-of-20 faceoffs in 22:18 of ice time on Wednesday. “That’s all I can do."
It's a far cry from last year, when a giant piece of plexiglass accidentally fell on his head during the end-of-Game-1 celebration after a Bruins victory over the Capitals. Krejci finished that disappointing series with one goal and a 0 plus/minus rating in seven quiet games as the B's were eliminated by Washington.
“There is no room to look back on things right now," he said. "All we can do is put our best out there for every shift we play, and try to win the game. I know I had a good run a couple of years ago, but I know that I also had a bad run last year. So I’m just trying to play my hardest and not worry so much about the results.”
Each of his three goals in Wednesday's blood-and-guts win seemed to highlight Krejci’s versatility. The first was on the rebound of a Brad Marchand shot where Krejci simply crashed the net and batted the loose puck out of the air. The second goal was straight goal-scoring beauty, as he one-timed a Nathan Horton cross-ice pass from the left circle on a Bruins power play.
The overtime game-winner developed when Dion Phaneuf tried to take out Horton in the offensive zone and instead took himself out of the play, allowing Krejci to rush up ice in attack mode. Krejci used Lucic as a decoy and was able to fire a shot past James Reimer from the left side.
Each goal displayed exactly how much more grit Krejci is playing with now that the postseason has arrived, with a strength on the puck that belies his decidedly average 6-foot, 188-pound frame.
That grit and puck possession strength is something Claude Julien probably wants to bottle up and serve to all his players, or at least convince his center to pass on to some of his fellow forwards.
“His line has been good throughout this whole series, but David tonight was certainly the guy that was shining,” said the coach. “He’s been a really good playoff performer for years, for us. There are certain players who just thrive on playoff hockey, and he’s one of those guys. We know he’s a great playmaker, a skilled player . . . but the other part is that he doesn’t shy away from traffic or a physical game.
“He’s very gritty when he needs to be gritty. When he finds his game he is a dominant player.”
What Krejci represents is simple: He is the ultimate playoff performer who’s suddenly starting to get appreciated around the rest of the hockey work. Some of the midseason trade rumors swirling around the skilled center that involved Bobby Ryan or Keith Yandle seem ridiculous when No. 46 dials the intensity up a notch during the postseason as only so few can.
Those around the Bruins organization have long known Krejci is one of those players who can be counted upon when the games matter most, and he’s in good company with 16 other Cup winners on Boston’s roster.
You can never have enough of those kinds of guys on a playoff hockey club, and Krejci and the rest of the Bruins are showing exactly why in the series against Toronto.