Do the Marc Savard-less Bruins have a legitimate No. 1 line that makes opposing defenses shiver every time it hops over the boards?
We know what general manager Peter Chiarelli’s answer would be to that question: definitely.
Up until the last few Bruins victories, I would’ve answered the opposite way. And I would’ve put that missing link as reason No. 1 that the Bruins weren’t destined to go deep in the playoffs.
But all of a sudden Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic have regained the form that earned them the HuLK Line moniker from this blog early in the season, and the powerful trio could use the season’s final 21 games to catapult the Bruins as high as second in the Eastern Conference.
Tonight’s shocking 3-1 win over Vancouver – shocking because of how easily the West’s other powerhouse Detroit handled the Bruins earlier this month – was a clinic in what the HuLK Line can do when playing at its best.
Horton cashed in on his own rebound for the tying goal after Lucic retrieved a wide shot behind the Canucks’ goal. Lucic buried a rebound of a Dennis Seidenberg shot after an amazing rush from the Bruins’ blue line around the Vancouver net and out to the right dot by Krejci. After a sluggish first period by all the Bruins, who were perhaps rusty from three days without a game, the Canucks and the league’s second-stingiest defense couldn’t stop the Bruins’ big guns when it counted most. This could be a preview of what it will be like for teams to face the Bruins once the best-of-seven series start in April.
However, we’ve seen things go haywire for these guys before. The last time this trio was this hot, Krejci suffered a concussion against St. Louis that caused a lineup shuffle. For whatever reason, it took the center time to find his game again after he missed six. Krejci, Lucic and Horton couldn’t rediscover their magic, Savard finally moved up to the top line before he exited the lineup for good and the questions about the Bruins’ possession of a No. 1 line emerged.
Some of those questions still linger. Horton fired five shots on net and scored his second goal in three games. Over the last four, he has 2-2-4 totals. Why can’t he put up shot totals and cash in at close to that rate on a more consistent basis?
Krejci’s rush around no fewer than three Vancouver defenders with the puck seemingly welded to his blade earned him an assist that extended his points streak to four games (1-6-7 totals in that time). He now has at least one point in 12 of his last 19 games and five multi-point performances over that span. Can he continue to blossom as Boston’s premier playmaker and do it on a nightly basis without disappearing the way he did for most of early to mid-January?
Lucic scored tonight’s game-winner from just outside the blue paint, which is where he should spend most of every game. He was protecting the puck and zooming around the rink as though he owned it. Somehow the Vancouver stats keeper didn’t find one hit by Lucic for the score sheet. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t the physical presence everyone wants him to be.
Now he has 4-3-7 totals in his last four games, which have increased his point total to a new career-high 45. No one with eyes is questioning the contract extension the Bruins gave Lucic last fall. But why are there still nights when you feel like you haven’t seen No. 17 with the puck or battling in front all night long?
I don’t think we’ll have answers to the above-mentioned questions until these last 21 games of the regular season are done, and we might not have final answers until we see how far this team advances in the unpredictable world of the postseason.
So far, though, the HuLK line has aced the multiple-choice portion of this test with its confidence and chemistry clicking just in time for the ever-difficult essay portion. With a top line that can produce like this and support the league’s best goal-preventing defense and goaltender, the Bruins could wind up near the head of the class.