Krejci line serving as B's offensive engine

Krejci line serving as B's offensive engine
May 7, 2013, 1:45 am
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TORONTO – Don’t look now but the Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton forward line is the most dominant grouping of forwards in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.

The trio has obviously tasted postseason success before at the highest levels, but they had one of their best playoff performances since coming together as a trio in Boston’s 5-2 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 3 at the Air Canada Centre. Monday night’s game was supposed to be about the Leafs hosting their first playoff game in nine years, and perhaps giving their tortured fan base a little hope they might be close to their first Stanley Cup in 47 years.

But instead Krejci, Lucic and Horton stomped all over the Leafs postseason party, and turned the game into a well-rounded team effort that featured their awesome destructive power. The three forwards combined for eight points and a plus-9 rating, and accounted for three of the team’s five goals in a win that gives them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

That gives them five of the 11 goals the Bruins have scored in three playoff games vs. the Leafs, or 45 percent of the B’s offense thus far.

“They’re the engine that’s getting us going,” said Rich Peverley. “They’re playing pretty good. Horton and [Lucic] are playing awesome right now, and they are fun to watch once they get going.”

Clearly “fun” is a subjective term depending on who is being asked. The scorch marks all over Dion Phaneuf’s body from being continually torched in the defensive zone couldn’t have been all that much fun for him. Certainly Joffrey Lupul wasn’t basking in the “fun” when Lucic trucked him in the corner with a devastating second period that was No. 17 at his best.

But for anybody surrounding the Bruins organization, it’s pretty clear that Game 3 was a whole ball of playoff hockey fun.

Each of their goals was timely in nature, and vital in importance to the postseason win. To nobody’s surprise, it was big game player Krejci that was at the controls for all three goals and kicked things off in the first period with a face-off win in the offensive zone against Jay McClement. The won face-off eventually traveled back to Adam McQuaid at the right point, and the B’s defenseman feathered a shot through traffic that ended up getting by James Reimer.

Krejci and Co. struck again in the second period when the Maple Leafs finally got on the board with a Jake Gardiner goal on the power play. Less than a minute later Krejci corralled a puck in the defensive end, and pushed a two-zone pass off the boards that caught a speeding Lucic in stride. Lucic and Horton turned it into a 2-on-1 with the right winger burying his third playoff goal in three games that got caught between Reimer’s water bottle and the video camera in the back of the net.

“To me that was probably a big turning point in the game that we can come back on that next shift and score a big goal. We took the energy right out of the building,” said Claude Julien. “From then on we had better control for the rest of the period.”

The Leafs once again stormed back and scored a power play goal at the beginning of the third period when Phil Kessel cashed in on a broken play in front of the net, but Krejci iced it with an empty net goal with 1:17 to go in the game. The Czech center was certainly happy that his line powered up for three goals in the needed Monday night victory, but the discerning Krejci also clearly wasn’t satisfied.

“It’s an exciting time. Every goal and every win brings to the goal you want to accomplish. That’s the motivation,” said Krejci, who led the playoff field two years ago with 12 goals and 23 points in 25 games en route to the Stanley Cup. “Milan was huge tonight. I thought he was our best player, and he was making strong plays out there. Horton does what he does, he scores big goals at crucial moments.

“I’m happy those two guys are going so well. I’m just trying to fit in. We want to go out there, keep it simple and not do anything too cute. Those are the kinds of strong, simple plays it takes to win.”

That’s a good sign coming from the playoff’s leading scorer, who is beginning to put together a postseason body of work that’s much closer to the team’s Stanley Cup season two years ago rather than last year’s one-and-out showing. The 26-year-old pivot is at the top of the Stanley Cup playoff field with seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in three games against the Maple Leafs. Lucic leads the NHL with six assists in three games, and Horton has three goals in three games while finishing the chances his linemates are setting him up for.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to contribute, but the attitude we need to have is that we’re never satisfied,” said Lucic. “We’re up by a game [in the series] and we made a mistake by taking them too lightly going into Game 2. We can’t make that same mistake into Wednesday.”

While Lucic and Krejci weren’t looking to bathe in any of the glory with the series still very much up for grabs, it was up to their teammates to express how much they’re simply following that line’s lead.

It’s actually pretty simple. Krejci, Lucic and Horton are the best forward line going in the playoffs right now, and they have the numbers to back it up. They’re clearly using their power game and Krejci’s passing wizardry for offensive success, and they’re feasting on the subpar defensive corps and average goaltending featured by the Maple Leafs.

Rich Peverley’s goal in the second period actually marked the only B’s forward outside of Krejci, Lucic and Horton that has registered a goal during this postseason.

That’s something that will ultimately need to change. There’s no single forward line that can carry a team through the playoffs, but so far this year Krejci and his bruising wingers are making a pretty good case against that little piece of conventional hockey wisdom three games into Boston’s playoff journey.