Even in victory, Bruins' top line continues to struggle

Even in victory, Bruins' top line continues to struggle
May 9, 2014, 8:45 am
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MONTREAL -- The Bruins pulled out a crucial playoff win by the slimmest of margins in Game 4 at the Bell Centre Thursday night, but there's still plenty of room for Black and Gold improvement.

Specifically, the top line of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic continues to struggle offensively. Rookie Matt Fraser's overtime goal gave the Bruins a 1-0 victory that evened the series at 2-2 -- restoring home-ice advantage to the B's in the process -- but the fact the game was scoreless through regulation was further proof of the KIL line's problems.

Krejci chose to look on the bright side afterwards.

“It was baby steps, but we had some good looks,” he said. “Things were pretty tight, and I thought both of the goalies played really well.

"It’s about staying positive, and if you’re not producing on the scoresheet then you need to do other things. I thought we had a strong game defensively, but we need to play better offensively, obviously.

"We got a big win, and that’s all that matters.”

Krejci, Iginla and Lucic did generate a chance or two in the third period, but on the whole they once again were missing in action. While each of the other three forward lines controlled play in the offensive zone for long stretches and kept the momentum going during regulation play, Krejci and Co. were in chase mode for most of the night. And it was Krejci -- who struggled mightily again on Thursday night -- who committed the turnover that turned into a partial breakaway for Brian Gionta. It was turned aside by Tuukka Rask, but it was Montreal's best scoring chance of the game.

The KIL line finished the night with just five total shots on net for the game: four of them credited to Lucic and one to Krejci, along with an uncounted shot that rang off the crossbar for Iginla. The goose egg on the scoresheet gives Krejci just three assists and a minus-3 in nine playoff games this spring, and has the usual postseason stud wondering what’s going on.

“Obviously you like to put the puck in the net, but it is what it is," he said. "Everybody has slumps and there’s no surprise that I’m in it right now. I’m just trying to help the team in different ways. I believe I’m a good enough player that it eventually is going to come.

“If you look at Games 1 and 2 I had great looks, so I just need to stay with it and stay positive. I know all of the guys are behind me, so I just need to help them as many ways as I can.”

After firing five shots on net in a dominant Game 1 performance, Krejci has just single shots on net in each of the last three games while looking out-of-sorts with the puck on his stick.

If Iginla had connected on the first-period shot that went off the crossbar, the rest of the game might have played out differently. But, instead, one has to tip the cap to a Habs' defensive effort that’s effectively bottled up Krejci, the leading scorer in two of the last three NHL playoffs. The Czech Republic center has been shadowed by Tomas Plekanec in most instances, and has been held to one point in four games. Couple that with the shutdown job Plekanec did on Krejci during the Montreal-Boston playoff series in 2011 -- when Krejci was once again held to just one point in the seven-game series –-- and it’s clear Montreal has his number.

Plekanec is denying Krejci the time and space he needs to create offense in the attack zone, but that line has also veered away from the simple meat-and-potatoes attack that’s always been so effective for them. Lucic and Iginla haven’t been freed up to clobber Montreal defensemen in the corners with heavy forecheck hits because the puck hasn’t been worked in deeply enough, and that keeps the Bruins’ top forward group from setting up in the offensive zone.

It’s a pretty simple fix: Work the puck more deeply, get in on the forecheck, and go back to the very basics of an honest, physical game. But it's easier said than done.

Iginla remains positive that the top line is on the verge of a breakthrough.

“We just keep working," he said. "In the first couple of games we had great chances and all of the set opportunities, and they just didn’t go in. It was probably a little quieter for us in this game, and that we were pressing a little bit in the first two periods. I thought we were a little better in the third when we started to get that zone time again.

“But we’ll work through it. We’ve been through this during the season, and it just feels good to get the win [in Game 4], and get a chance to reload and get better in the next game.”

Krejci and the rest of his line welcome the opportunity to bust out of their offensive funk at home in Game 5. Especially after being so consistently productive during the regular season, and being relied upon to be the B’s playoff scoresheet hero as he’s been so often in years past.