BOSTON – You might be able to hop on one leg across I-93 and survive, but if you attempted that act a second time you’re probably ticketed for the loony bid if you’re not flattened by a semi first.
The Bruins would be just as nuts to believe they could make it through their upcoming Eastern Conference semifinal series with Philadelphia without getting a major contribution from No. 1 center David Krejci.
After tying linemate Milan Lucic for the team lead with 62 points in the regular season, Krejci registered just a single point – a goal – in Boston’s seven-game victory over Montreal in the first round.
To be fair, Lucic struggled to the tune of just two points as well. But when it comes to the line of Lucic, Krejci and Nathan Horton (whose two overtime goals made up for a lack of production almost the entire rest of the series), everything starts with Krejci and his innate ability to create offense with the puck on his stick by anticipating player movement and the defensive response to that activity.
Today at the TD Garden the Bruins held their one and only practice in advance of tomorrow’s Game 1 in Philadelphia. The Krejci line was still intact and looking to generate some of the magic the Bruins need to get beyond the second round for the first time since 1992.
“I felt my game was there. I had so many chances, a couple breakaways too,” said Krejci, who missed at least two open nets over the last couple games of the Habs series. “If I would bury those, everything would be more perfect. But I’m glad the first round is behind me. Now I’m going to forget about it and get ready for [Saturday].”
While Krejci’s aim is to forget this year’s first round, last year he enjoyed a playoff run to remember while centering Lucic and Miro Satan. In the first round against Buffalo, he totaled three goals, five points. He then put up a goal and two assists before suffering a season-ending wrist injury in Game 3 against the Flyers.
The Bruins famously lost the next four games without Krejci in the lineup. Sure Dennis Seidenberg and Marco Sturm were also missing, Andrew Ference was battling injury, and Mark Stuart and Marc Savard were rusty after lengthy injury absences. But Krejci’s absence was the biggest dagger in the Bruins’ hearts.
When you’re as deep on the back end as the Flyers – and this year’s team, with veterans Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell forming the third pair, might be even deeper than last year’s – you can pretty much cancel out any second- or third-line offense. It’s the battle of the top pair vs. the top line that will probably determines these games against Philadelphia.
Despite Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s contention that the Bruins are better equipped to live without Krejci this season with an improved Patrice Bergeron and the additions of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Gregory Campbell, none of them can make the Flyers’ defense pay the way Krejci can when he’s on top of his game.
That’s why the coach wasn’t about to put all the pressure on Krejci today, but he did predict we’d see a different player in the No. 46 sweater than we witnessed in the first round.
“Well we won the last series. That’s one thing,” said Julien. “The other thing I’m going to tell you is that I believe in David Krejci. I think David Krejci is going to get better and I think his line’s going to be better in this series. Maybe this series here will be better suited for that line as well.”
The Bruins power play, which went 0-for-21 against Montreal, obviously also has to produce at least a little for Boston to have a chance. An improved effort to battle in the trenches and better decision-making from Krejci can be a benefit 5-on-5 or on the man-advantage. There are so many aspects of the game that get impacted by Krejci, you can’t help but consider the Bruins somewhat lucky for getting past the Habs without him.
Last spring, Lucic bounced back from a two-assist first round to score five times (and add two more assists) against the Flyers. The Bruins are hoping he can duplicate that. But a Lucic resurgence, and a Bruins series victory, will not be possible without Krejci — who all season has talked about performing as a No. 1 center and mostly backed it up — playing the type of hockey that can turn the Bruins’ first line into a Mack truck hauling ass down the interstate.