BOSTON – By traveling to Lake Placid, N.Y, for two practices next week, the Bruins are planning on getting far away from Montreal between Game 3 and 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Montreal.
It’s too bad their first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton seemed to be playing far away from TD Garden through the first two periods of their 2-0 loss to the Canadiens in Game 1.
The Bruins are supposed to be a four-line force, but over the last two months of the regular season they were really just a one-line offense in the big games when the stakes were high. Barring a major resurrection of their second and third lines, the Bruins are only going to go as far as the so-called HuLK line can carry them, and tonight that was only to a shutout defeat.
“Well, I think when you look at the score sheet tonight, it’s pretty obvious that we need those guys to produce for us and they’re amongst the rest of the team that has to do a better job of that,” said head coach Claude Julien in a rare fit of brutal honesty about how his best players fared against the Habs. “But, you know, again, we’ll deal with those kind of things internally, but no doubt we have some players that we’d like to see be a little better offensively and give us a little bit more of an offensive punch to their game.”
It took until the third period for Milan Lucic to fire his first shot on Montreal goaltender Carey Price, and Horton carried just one shot on net on his ledger until late in the game. David Krejci took a goose egg in the shots department.
“I don’t think we were too cute. I think we playing hard on our sticks … we have to get some bodies in front of the goalie and get some shots through and I think other than that it was a good game. But you need some goals to score and that didn’t happen today,” said Krejci who took a different view of his line’s play than his coach.
For all the talk by the Bruins’ “Big Three” leading up to this series about just playing their game and getting pucks deep and punishing the Habs on the forecheck, it was all absent in Game 1 – except for some spurts of the third period. At this rate, we’ll have to call them the “Bruce Banner Line” and tab Hal Gill and P.K. Subban as the “Hulk Pair.” There was nothing ferocious about Krejci and his linemates when that’s all they should’ve been.
Only Horton, who was playing in his first NHL playoff game, had an excuse to be off his game. He could’ve been intimidated by the increased pace or even the roar of the crowd. After the game he claimed it didn’t affect him, which is too bad because it would’ve made a perfect excuse.
“I don’t think so. I think we played pretty hard and we had our chances,” said Horton, who sounded like he’d just lost a January game to Anaheim. “We just need to fix a few things. It’s going to be a long one and we all know that. They are a good team but it’s just Game One.”
The just Game One theory doesn’t cut it when you consider Lucic didn’t score in the last 10 regular-season games and Krejci scored once in the last 12. Horton was the only one with some semblance of a hot hand with two goals (one on the power play) in his last six outings. It’s time to flip the switch and all the top line provided was a flicker of electricity.
That Lucic owned up for his third-period miscue that led to Montreal’s second goal (“For myself I just got to make stronger plays,” he said), was a great sign of maturity. He also was a little more honest than his colleagues about his line’s play.
“Well I think it got better as the game got along. I think we probably could have done better like I talked about with getting in, fighting for a position in front of the net, creating screens and getting those rebounds where they did a pretty good job battling with us and trying to box us out,” said Lucic. “But for ourselves we felt like we had a pretty good game, obviously. But like I said we have to raise it another level.”
Lucic needs to show that just because he’s coming off his best all-around regular season and is fully ensconced as a first-line winger, he’s not going to lay off in the playoffs. He can’t play at anything less than that “other level” and neither can his linemates. This is no time for any of Boston’s first-liners to start channeling the ‘80s Edmonton Oilers without the blazing speed and god-like talent. They’re a first line in name only. For intents and purposes, they’re a “grind line” with oodles of talent.
There aren’t supposed to be shifts taken off in the playoffs. Krejci’s line went on hiatus for two periods. That trio has hit its limit for this series. It has to be full-speed ahead until one of the teams wins four games or they’re going to walk off into the sunset Bill Bixby style a lot earlier than they expected.