The Bruins had a reason to party like it was 2009 tonight, and not just because they pulled out a win in Sunrise, Fla., over the Florida Panthers.
They managed to win eke out a 3-2 shootout win with just one line playing at its full potential — and that line was the combination of Blake Wheeler, David Krejci and Michael Ryder. The last time that trio played as effectively as it did tonight, Twitter was still in its infancy.
As far as recent Bruins franchise history, they could do worse than to replicate the formula of success they enjoyed during the 2008-09 season, when they won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and then won a round of playoffs for the first time in a decade.
A major reason for that success was the WKRP (the ‘P’ is for points, as Twitter follower Derek Stewart explained). Krejci recorded 73 points, Wheeler finished his rookie season with 45 points (21 g0als) and Ryder paid off in his inaugural Boston season with 27 goals.
Tonight, the line’s second night back together, was a flashback sort of evening. Krejci finished with two goals, while Ryder registered two assists. All three skaters posted a plus-2 rating, and Wheeler scored the lone goal in the shootout. It was a heck of a night for a threesome that skated through the first period as though they were trying to bring back the nightmare of last season, when their inability to regain their ’09 chemistry helped the Bruins produce the league’s worst offense.
Wheeler skated down on one 3-0n-2 and stopped on a dime before giving the puck away. On a second odd-man rush, Wheeler and Ryder were too close on a puck exchange and the Panthers easily broke it up. Maybe they found a time machine during the intermission or just had someone read them the riot act, because it was smooth sailing from period No. 2 on.
Twice Boston fell behind, and twice the WKRP line responded. Both times, Krejci was in front of the net. On the first goal, Ryder was mucking it up too, which was a welcome sight for a Bruins team that needs a net-front presence to succeed the way Popeye needs spinach. The second goal was a carbon copy of the break-ins the Bruins work on in practice, with Ryder feeding Wheeler and Wheeler feeding Krejci streaking to the goal — all three players skating hard out of the neutral zone.
Even the possessions that didn’t end in goals — including Krejci’s bid to cap a hat trick with a game-winner in the closing seconds of overtime — brought back memories of a better time in the history of the WKRP line. It’s obvious that a reunion with the wingers he’s most comfortable with has pushed Krejci out of “returning from a concussion” mode into full-speed, magical-vision Krejci mode. That’s what the Bruins desperately needed.
The failures of last season made it seem as though the WKRP line had taken people by surprise in ’09. Maybe their success was all about taking advantage of being the third line opposing teams focused on. Injuries took their toll on the 2009-10 Bruins and forced everyone to play up a notch on Boston’s depth chart. In Boston’s current alignment, Krejci’s trio might continue to see less of top defense pairs and might get overlooked at times. But there’s nothing the Bruins can do about that except take advantage of their depth. That’s what this team is supposed to be built around: depth up the middle and at least three lines that can score.
If Wheeler, Krejci and Ryder can keep up their ’09 pace or exceed it, the Bruins might be able to replicate the regular-season success of that club through 2011 and make this season the one to remember.