TAMPA — The game might’ve ended with Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic again doing their Road Warriors tag team impersonation on a couple Tampa Bay players, but for the previous 60 minutes of hockey that bulky duo teamed with David Krejci to dominate the Lightning.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, Krejci and his linemates couldn’t overcome lackluster goaltending, inept defensemen play or atrocious penalty killing in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. So the Bruins came up short, 5-4, at the St. Pete Times Forum.
With their win, the Lightning forced Game 7 at the TD Garden Friday night.
The Krejci Line combined for seven points and 10 shots on goal, as well as a plus-6 rating, led by David Krejci’s hat trick — which was the first in the playoffs by a Bruins player since Cam Neely in 1991.
“They were very good tonight,” said head coach Claude Julien. “That line needed to be big for us and they were. That’s certainly something that you can build on heading home. If those guys play like that again, you like our chances.”
Well, obviously that line being at top of its game doesn’t guarantee a victory because the Bruins would be on their way to the Stanley Cup Final if that’s all they needed. Between tonight and Game 7, they’re going to have to tighten up their penalty kill (1-for-4), continue their never-ending search for a power play that both sustain pressure and make the opposing defense and goaltender work.
They’re going to have to find a way to not give up a goal on the game’s first shot against, as they have twice in a row now, and maybe find a fountain of youth for Mark Recchi, who is now pointless with a minus-5 rating in this series.
Miraculous goaltending from Tim Thomas and the play of Krejci’s line have masked some of the team’s deficiencies. It’s tough to say if Boston’s top trio can duplicate their efforts from Game 6, or if that’s not enough, elevate their game even more.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Krejci about his hat trick getting lost in the loss. “I think we battled hard, especially my line. I think the way we competed … if we’re going to play like this, it doesn’t matter who’s playing against us they’re not going to be able to stop us. We have to take the same attitude next game and try to do the same thing.”
If by us Krejci means his line, he’s probably right — especially at home with the second change. However, first-line effectiveness does not equal definite victory for Boston. So in Game 7, the rest of the Bruins are going to have to follow the lead of Krejci’s line.