By Joe Haggerty
TAMPA, Fla. Dont look now, but David Krejci is blossoming into something special during Bostons run through the playoffs.
Its true that things got a little scary in the first period when Krejci got a bit of a buddy pass from Dennis Seidenberg and was knocked for a loop by a hard-charging Marc-Andre Bergeron fresh off the Tampa Bay bench. That came after Krejci had already scored Bostons first goal of the game directly in front of the Lightning net, and perhaps he was paying the physicalprice for his offensive diligence.
The big hockeyhit got Krejci directly in the chest before the Tampa Bay defenseman finished off the check by extending the elbow toward the center's head, andthe impactdropped the creative center to one knee for extended seconds. But he was simply trying to catch his breath and perhaps stifle his laughter as he watched Lightning coach Guy Boucher lose his mind once an elbowing penalty was assessed to Bergeron on the play.
Krejci stayed on the bench for the rest of the period,collected himself in the dressing room between the first and second, and thendidnt miss a shift the rest of the way after putting a good scare into everybody.
I looked and I saw one defenseman on the second blue line, like they always have, said Krejci. I started thinking about what I was going to do when I get over the line and getting ready, and then I heard guys on the bench yelling Heads up!'
Seids said he was sorry for making the pass because then he saw the guy jump off the bench. Maybe the league will look at the video, but Im fine so it doesnt really matter. I stayed on the ice. I told assistant coach Geoff Ward that I just needed to catch my breath for a few minutes and Id be okay.
Its a good thing Krejci is fine because hes been an unstoppable offensive force since the end of the seven-game series against Montreal. The Czech Republic playmaker has 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in his last seven games, and has the confidence flowing at high levels as evidenced by the patience to pull off double moves on his first goal.
Add in winning 13 out of 18 faceoffs, and that finished offa pretty complete two-wayeffort.
The pivotal play in the game arrived just 69 seconds in, as Milan Lucic controlled the puck in the corner and watched in a mixture of amusement and aweas both Brett Clark and Victor Hedman converged on him away from the net.
With two players already on Nathan Horton and the fifth Lightning skater guarding a seam against one of Bostons defenseman, Lucic simply spotted Krejcis stick all alone in front of the net and flipped a pass into the area. Krejci collected the puck and faked forehand to get Dwayne Roloson sprawling forward, and then patientlyswitched to his backhand to score his seventh goal of the playoffs.
I was looking for Horton in the slot and he had two guys on him, said Lucic. I had two guys running at me and I saw a stick in front of the net. So I said All right, Ive got Krejci in front of the net.' I just made the play, and he did an even better job of making the play and finishing things off. It felt like 5-10 seconds before Krejci shot but he obviously did what he needed to do.
That first goal is huge in any game.
It was the fourth game-winning goal for Krejci during his current playoff run, tying Cam Neelys 1991 franchise record for game-winning goals in a playoff series.
Tim Thomas recorded his second career postseason shutout with a 31-save effort in a solid bounceback less-than-stellar performances in Games 1 and 2.
His one-two combination of stops on a spinning Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcellin the first period set the tone for the entire game.
It was kind of a product of the way the game goes in front of me, said Thomas. I was able to play more under control tonight. A lot of that has to do with the way we played the way Im used to. I felt comfortable in a game like that.
Zdeno Chara seemed to be battling a cold or illness of some kind postgame, but gritted his way to 28:27 of ice time, good for second-most on the Bruins. It was behind only Dennis Seidenberg, who clocked in at 28:30.
Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup and played 19-plus minutes, logged time on the penalty kill and power play, and was his usual versatile, valuable self when it came to helping in every area of Bostons game plan. The 25-year-old finally spoke after the game and said that hes been feeling better for more than a week, a sign of how his body now reacts to a mild concussion.
There were no complications, no scary symptoms and really no evidence of the past head injuries for Bergeron, and he jumped right into the physical fray for Boston without worrying about possible consequences.
I felt pretty good out there, said Bergeron. I was pretty glad to be back to help the team. I didnt know which game Id return. It was a matter of taking it one day at a time after it felt good for the past week.
I decided I was ready to go and I had some practices this week. I didnt want to put pressure on myself. When I do that Im just making things worse.
Tomas Kaberle had three blocked shots for the Bruins a number that led the Bs team and none were bigger than his smothering of a Simon Gagne shot late in the third period when Thomas had vacated the net briefly dealing with the action around the cage. While the power play continued to struggle for the Bruins in Game Three, the Bruins coaching staff might be onto something with Kaberle and Tyler Seguin working together on one of the units. Some of the best puck movement in the playoffs arrived when the two offensive minded players were working between the half-wall and the point.