David Krejci and Milan Lucic were part of the best forward line in the entire Stanley Cup playoff field last spring on their steady march all the way to the Finals vs. Chicago. Krejci had nine goals and led all playoff performers with 26 points in the 22 playoff games, and both Nathan Horton and Lucic posted 19 points in the 22 playoff games apiece.
Together as a line they were a plus-45 during the postseason, and they thoroughly dominated the first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Things were supposed to be even better this season with free agent signing Jarome Iginla subbing in for the outgoing Horton, and they absolutely were during the 82-game regular season. Iginla brought consistency and veteran poise to the always productive Krejci/Lucic combo, and more importantly the 36-year-old became the first free agent signing in franchise history to go on and score 30 goals for the Black and Gold.
Krejci and Lucic had their most consistent NHL seasons to date alongside Iginla: the 69 points were the second-highest total for Krejci in his career, and he led the entire NHL with a plus-39 this season.
Lucic posted his usual 24 goals and 59 points while providing the consistent menacing physical presence the Bruins coaching staff is always looking from him.
So it was all good in the neighborhood for the Black and Gold through last weekend.
But now marks the time when Boston’s best players need to step up and lead the way against a Detroit Red Wings team that is the stuff of first round nightmares. Krejci, Lucic and Iginla couldn’t get anything generated consistently in Friday night’s Game 1 loss to the Wings, and finished with a measly four shots on net.
That won’t fly for a line that teamed for 73 goals and 189 points this season.
“We believe in ourselves and each other. One game isn’t going to change that,” said Iginla. “We have to find ways to create more, and get more zone time. We have to find ways to battle through it a little more. Its playoffs and we’re prepared to do that. It’s kind of the way we play. We have to do that.
“In the third period I thought we had the best chances that we had in the entire game, and part of our game has been that as the game goes on we get better chances. I think that comes from wearing teams down, not just as a line but all through the lineup.”
They picked it up a bit in the final 20 minutes, and had the closest thing to a successful scoring chance against the Wings. It was a Lucic redirection of an Iginla shot that nearly trickled through Jimmy Howard before skidding harmlessly away to the left side of the crease.
That could have won the game for the Bruins, but instead it underscored exactly what that lagging line didn’t do through 60 minutes of playoff hockey.
“Our third line had more scoring chances than our top two,” said Julien. “So we have to find a way to get our top two lines to get better scoring chances. I’m sure [that Detroit is] probably looking at the same situation from their end.”
The difference being that one of Detroit’s top forwards (Pavel Datsyuk) scored, and the Red Wings took home the game.
Krejci, Lucic and Iginla didn’t get their cycle game working, and they never had that long offensive zone shift where they pounded away at the Detroit defense on the forecheck. Part of the reason Lucic lost his cool before spearing Danny DeKeyser was clearly related to all of this. Lucic was just a step late on the dump attempts for the Bruins, and couldn’t arrive in time to lower the boom on most of the Red Wings defenseman corps.
There was little flow to the B’s breakout attempts, and both the spacing and speed during the rush up the ice were sloppy and far too easy for the Red Wings to slow down. Players like Iginla and Krejci talked about making adjustments after the defeat, but were intent on showing them in Game 2 rather than talking about it beforehand.
What isn’t a secret is what’s expected of the KIL (Krejci, Iginla, Lucic) on Sunday afternoon, and for the rest of an expectantly long playoff run.
Boston’s top line needs to fight through Detroit’s crafty methods to slow them down (obstruction is still alive and well in the NHL, and begin to impose their physical will in the offensive zone with increased puck possession. Krejci needs to hold onto the puck for that extra beat while doing a little better than 2-for-8 in the face off circle. That was not the stuff of playoff heroes, and he seemed to get a little discouraged by the Red Wings bouncing him around with some rough treatment.
Lucic needs to harness his emotions into doing damage to the Detroit defensemen group, and make certain his linemates are dumping pucks to spots he can quickly reach in the corners.
Iginla needs to be the lethal goal scorer and big-bodied presence around the net that’s poised and ready to strike on rebounds around the net.
Those are the different skill sets merged together that produced so much goal-scoring success in the playoffs last year.
“It was tight, so we have to find a way. I feel like we have to go really deep [down in the zone] and hold onto the puck more, so we will have some more time on the breakouts. But we didn’t do that,” said Krejci. “We have to come down on the breakouts. Forwards will get it and come up the ice as a line, all three guys with the same speed. I don’t think we did that. It was pretty tight in the neutral zone.”
It’s no stretch to say the Bruins won’t be advancing very far this season unless history repeats itself. That means it’s time for Krejci, Lucic and Iginla to step up and score for a Bruins team that looked offensively constipated in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.