CHICAGO – David Krejci wasn’t mincing any words when talking about his line’s play the last few games.
“There's nothing to it," said Krejci. "Just play the game. It's not like we've sucked or something the last game. I feel like we just played ‘so-so’, and ‘so-so’ is not good enough. We have to skate hard. We have to hit. We have to pay attention to little details. As far as our line goes, we have to take care of our defensive zone first and go from there.”
That line has been more than acceptable defensively against the Blackhawks, but both Krejci and Milan Lucic hesitated when asked if there were any adjustments Chicago has made to shut down a line that includes the NHL’s leading playoff scorer (Krejci with 24 points), the playoff top plus/minus man with Nathan Horton’s plus-23 rating and the NHL’s top wrecking ball with Lucic leading the playoff field with 93 registered hits.
In the last three Cup Final games, however, the trio has just a single goal amongst them and three overall points as they’ve slowed down a bit offensively.
They have a combined 13 shots on net in those three games, but it should also be noted they haven’t been minus players even once throughout the Stanley Cup Final. The emergence of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin on the offensive end has eased the burden on the Krejci line during the Final, but it’s time for the big dogs to start barking with three games deciding the fate of the Stanley Cup.
“They've been pretty good throughout the whole playoffs,” said Julien. “I certainly wouldn't be the guy to complain about their performance so far. They've been pretty good.
“But at one point you get to the finals and everybody wants to give a little bit more. I think they're no different. They're a line that's very proud of what they've accomplished in these playoffs so far and would like to finish on a good note. If we can get a little more from those guys, it would be a bonus.”
It appeared in Game 1 that the trio would get whatever they wanted offensively against the defensemen pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, but the Blackhawks managed to hold them down.
Some of that, of course, has to do with Horton playing less than 100 percent healthy over the last three games, and dealing with an uncomfortable brace that’s helping support his injured left shoulder. After posting 7 goals and 10 assists in his first 17 playoff games, Horton has just a single assist in three games since his left shoulder popped out of its socket in the overtime of Game 1.
Horton’s teammates swear that the shoulder isn’t affecting him, and he did author a nice pass to Johnny Boychuk in Game 4 that earned him a primary assist.
“I think Horty's been playing OK,” said Krejci. "We haven't been putting the puck in the net, but he made a good play on the tying goal [in Game 4] when Johnny [Boychuk] shot it…so he's still doing his thing.
“I don't think we should talk about him; we should talk about us as a line. Each of us has to help each other a little more, and maybe the last couple of games we didn't look like the line that we would like to play in the finals. We know we can do it. We know we can do it against Chicago. We're ready to bounce back.”
All that being said a diminished right winger might be scaling back the effectiveness of Krejci and Lucic. But the bruising left winger does have three goals overall in the series against a Blackhawks that’s given them a fair battle, and feels like there is more production that can be squeezed out of their prodigiously productive power trio.
“They've been playing us tight from Game 1,” said Lucic. “They've been keeping a good gap and as you can tell they definitely try to take away your space in all areas, in all three zones. We definitely need to be better as a line and we've got to find a way to break through whatever kind of adjustments they've made.
“You definitely want to step your game up in order to help your team win. You want to do whatever you can to contribute. There's a maximum of three games left in this year's hockey season, when you look at it like that the focus has to be to put everything on the line because there's nothing left after a potential three games. You want to leave it all out there, and hope you can bring your best in order to help your team win.”
With the series tied 2-2 and with Chicago and Boston needing two wins within the next three games to hoist the Cup over their head once again, they’ll need every last bit of energy, power and production that Krejci, Lucic and Horton can provide while elevating their game.