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NHL playoffs | Bruins at Capitals

Bruins need their top line to get it straightened out

The Bruins’ top line, centered by David Krejci (left), was held in check by Jeff Schultz (right) and the Capitals in Games 1 and 2. The Bruins’ top line, centered by David Krejci (left), was held in check by Jeff Schultz (right) and the Capitals in Games 1 and 2. ( John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 16, 2012
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On the first shift of overtime in Saturday’s Game 2 of the Bruins-Capitals playoff matchup, Milan Lucic had what had failed to come his way for the entire series: a scoring chance.

A turnover took place in the neutral zone. Lucic chased after the puck and looked to get a shot on Washington goaltender Braden Holtby. But before Lucic could get the puck on his blade, Alexander Semin dived to bust up his chance and foil the scoring bid.

“I saw that I had a lane to the net, so I tried to get going as fast as I could,’’ Lucic said. “He got down and made a real good play, sliding his stick across and hitting the puck away. It would have been great to get that chance there in overtime. I haven’t had a real scoring chance yet in this series. Got to do more.’’

After nearly 150 minutes of play, only two pucks have slipped past Holtby. Both came off the sticks of third-liners. Chris Kelly, the No. 3 center, slapped the overtime winner over Holtby in Game 1. In Game 2, third-line left wing Benoit Pouliot tied the score at 1-1 when he whacked a loose puck past Holtby in the third period.

The big boys - Lucic, David Krejci, Rich Peverley, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin - have yet to get their games unglued.

“After being the second-highest scoring team in the league, only getting two goals in two games is something we’re not happy with,’’ Lucic said. “Especially the top two lines, we’ve got to be better. All of us. Especially myself, creating opportunities in the offensive zone. We’ve got to take it upon ourselves to be better.’’

The second line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Seguin has had its mitts full limiting Washington’s top threesome from piling up scoring chances. Their primary duty has been to serve as a matchup line against Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer.

But the No. 1 line of Lucic, Krejci, and Peverley hasn’t had to aim its crosshairs, first and foremost, on defense. That line’s job is to create offense. Krejci should be making plays. Lucic should be using his size and straight-line speed to blister bodies and generate chances. Peverley has the wheels and hands to put the Capitals back on their heels.

After two games, Krejci’s line has been out of synch.

“When those guys aren’t as effective as they should be, a lot of times they force plays,’’ coach Claude Julien said. “I think that’s what’s happening right now. One of the issues too is that Pev missed a lot of hockey. He’s just coming back. They’ve got to get themselves in synch a little bit.

“In order for that to happen, sometimes you’ve got to simplify your game vs. the other way around. Maybe right now, they’re just trying to be a little too cute and forcing some passes. Either it’s a forced play or the guy’s not expecting it. And vice versa. There’s a little bit of both involved in that situation with that line. They’ve just got to simplify a little more.

“We’ve got some guys on that line. Pev can shoot the puck. David’s a good playmaker. Looch can drive the net as good as anybody and can take the puck to the net as good as anybody. They’ve got some strengths that we know can be extremely useful for our hockey club.’’

Lucic and Krejci are on familiar ice. Last year, with Nathan Horton serving as their right wing, the first-line duo went through their gear-grinding against Montreal’s shutdown pairing of Hal Gill and P.K. Subban. Against the Canadiens, Lucic put up an 0-2-2 line.

This year, they’re going against a similar duo. Karl Alzner is a left-shot, stay-at-home defenseman like Gill. Like Subban, Carlson is a right-shot defenseman who can skate well and be physical, too.

“Looking back at that series, I wasn’t really able to get anything going the first two games,’’ Lucic said. “I feel like I haven’t really gotten anything going here in the first two games either. It’s not like I’m trying not to do anything. Saying that, you’ve got to put pressure on yourself to want to be better. I want to be better. I’m going to do everything I can to help this team win.’’

The line is most dangerous when it picks up momentum through the neutral zone. As effective as Alzner and Carlson have been, neither can slow Lucic down when the left wing is choo-chooing over the blue line.

Those rushes, however, haven’t been available. The Capitals have gummed up the neutral zone so effectively that Lucic hasn’t been able to get his wheels whirring in center ice. He is less effective when he’s stationary or trying to pick up momentum.

Somehow, the first line will have to address the situation and claim the neutral zone as its territory. One adjustment might be to dress Jordan Caron (scratched for Games 1 and 2) in Game 3 Monday night and replace Peverley with the bump-first wing. Caron played alongside Krejci and Lucic late in the regular season.

“They’re playing a real tight checking game,’’ Lucic said. “They’re doing a good job of clogging up the neutral zone as they are in the defensive zone. That’s another thing we’re going to have find ways to work through.

“We played through the tight checking of Tampa last year where they played the 1-3-1. We were able to find a way and eventually break them down. It’s things you have to go through in a playoff series. You have to adjust. We have to take it upon ourselves to be better and create more.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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