Bruins' streak iced, but Krejci stays hot

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Bruins' streak iced, but Krejci stays hot

By MaryPaoletti
CSNNE.com
I think right now were seeing David Krejci playing the way I think we expect him to play. Its as simple as that.
-- Claude Julien, Bruins coach

BOSTON Claude Julien couldnt have been more matter-of-fact about his top centers play on Saturday night. The Bruins fell in overtime, 3-2, to the Penguins to bring an end to their seven-game win streak. But the loss came in spite of yet another strong effort by Krejci.

He kicked things off with an assist on Zdeno Charas goal to put Boston up 1-0 in the second period. And Krejcis own strike with 33 seconds left in the game forced overtime when it looked like Pittsburgh had the game locked up. The goal salvaged a point to keep the Bruins (84 points) in striking distance of Eastern Conference leader Philadelphia (86).

Its no surprise that Bostons rise in the ranks coincides with a personal streak 11 points in 9 games for Krejci.

This is something that weve talked about for a good portion of the year, is that hes capable of doing that, Julien said on Saturday. Thats the way David Krejci should play and thats what we expect out of him. Hes capable of making those plays, hes capable of seeing the ice well and his two linemates are playing pretty well also, so thats made for a pretty successful line lately.

Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton are indeed reaping the benefits of being centered by a playmaker like Krejci. Lucics two assists give him 15 points in his last 12 games; Hortons helper (on the game-tying goal) extends his point streak to five games and gives him 12 points in his last 12 contests.

The production is at least some kind of answer to the question that buzzed around the Bruins in the first week of February: How would they fare without Marc Savard?

In 2007-08, Krejci was splitting time between Boston and Providence while Savard led the Bruins in scoring. The next season, Krejci racked up 73 points in a full year with the big boys, but Savard boasted 88. So even though Savard sat for half of 2009-10 because of concussions, it was expected that when he returned to full health, he would return to the first line.

But Marc Savard never really got healthy. On February 6, the Bruins star center was shut down. Expectations for Krejci ramped up.

David, as you know in the past, has always been the key to our teams success, Julien said earlier in the week. Whether its been Patrice Bergeron or whether its been Savard thats gone down, hes picked up his game. Hes made a world of a difference for this hockey club. And he knows that. The better he plays, the better the team is, because hes that good of a player.

Krejci has scored in 9 of 12 games since Savard was shut down. His 40 assists are best for the Bruins and in the top 10 in the NHL. Hes helped Horton who had a five-game stretch without a point get into a groove.

The best part for Boston? David Krejci isnt satisfied. Despite helping Chara put the team on the board and scoring to send Saturdays game to overtime, he wanted more. His hunger is exactly what the Bs need as they dive into the final five weeks of the regular season.

I dont think we played our best game, the center said in the postgame. I am positive if we played our game, then we would win. We gave them too many shots in the first two periods. That cant happen.

Reporters flocked to Krejci in the locker room to ask about the point he stole as the clock bore down on the Bruins. But he also had to answer for the point Pittsburgh got away with.

The first line center handled the pressure deftly, as he does on the ice.

We were coming out into the third period. We kind of went all in, Krejci said. We tried to get a goal. We tried to do something. Thats what you need, is your players to step up in those situations.

Funny. Thats exactly what he has done.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.