MONTREAL — For most of this young season, the No. 1 line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton has been the Bruins’ most dangerous. Krejci has been the team’s most consistent forward. Lucic and Horton have skated hard and punished opponents.
But for two periods on Wednesday night at the Bell Centre, the line just didn’t have it. Lucic and Horton didn’t skate with their usual pace. And Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 right wing, had zero shots through 40 minutes.
So during the second intermission, with his team trailing, 1-0, coach Claude Julien switched Horton and Seguin. He received instant results.
The line of Lucic, Krejci, and Seguin scored goals on their first two shifts. The Bruins survived a late hooking penalty on Krejci to claim a 2-1, come-from-behind win before 21,273.
“There’s going to be some nights when things aren’t going so well,’’ Julien said. “We all know the Krejci line has been awesome for us. Tonight, they didn’t seem to be able to generate much. I said, ‘Why not move guys around here and give a little spark?’ It worked out. Guys responded well.’’
The Bruins had only four shots in the first period, and didn’t put a single puck on Canadiens goalie Carey Price during two first-period power plays. Montreal’s shutdown defensive pair of Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin smothered Krejci’s line. For 40 minutes, the Canadiens resembled last season’s Rangers, plugging every shooting lane and stepping in front of shots.
At the other end, Tuukka Rask was putting on a clinic. He was beaten by a power-play slapper by P.K. Subban in the second period that appeared to tick off Rich Peverley’s blade, but in the first, when Montreal pushed hardest, Rask turned back a handful of Grade-A chances.
“We knew they were going to be coming at us,’’ Rask said. “They had a lot of chances. But luckily we got out of that, then stuck with it the rest of the game.’’
The Canadiens were buzzing. Lars Eller had the best first-period chance halfway through when he got behind Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk for a breakaway. Rask calmly kicked away Eller’s bid with his right pad.
“We were pretty lucky that it was a close game,’’ Seguin said. “Obviously, Tooks played a huge game there. We weren’t playing like we were prepared for a first-place game. Luckily, we showed our character in the third and got the 2 points.’’
On the first shift of the third period, Seguin kicked off the rally. He had entered with only one goal in eight games — an empty-netter, at that.
Seguin’s forechecking led to his second goal. He applied heavy heat on Emelin. In turn, the defenseman rimmed a puck around the boards that Krejci picked off in the right corner.
As Seguin curled and headed toward the net, Krejci bought his new right wing some time, floating into the corner and pulling Markov and Emelin toward him. It was all the room Seguin needed. Krejci found Seguin going to the net, and the 21-year-old responded with the tying strike just 14 seconds into the third.
“I feel like I’ve been playing decently well,’’ Seguin said. “Definitely could still do better. I’m getting my shots and my opportunities. A couple goals called back, a couple knobs. Things weren’t going in. But happily I snuck one in there in the third.’’
The threesome struck again on their next shift. Seguin took an outlet pass from Boychuk at the Boston blue line. He hurtled through the neutral zone to back up Markov and Emelin, then dished to Lucic on his left.
At the same time, Krejci sprinted past a backchecking Tomas Plekanec.
Lucic spotted Krejci, who crashed the net and was in the right spot for Lucic’s pass, tipping the puck past Price (21 saves) at 2:05 to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
“We didn’t have much offense going in the first two,’’ Krejci said. “Tooks kept us in the game in the first, especially, so many times. In the third, we came out hard. Just one of those things that the puck finds the stick.
“The stick finds the back of the net. I was happy for those two goals. It was a really big game for us tonight.’’
The Bruins are now in first place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of Pittsburgh. They have 3 points on the Canadiens. All thanks to a lineup tweak and a comeback win.
The new lines may not last. Brad Marchand could return by this weekend, either against Tampa Bay or Buffalo. Lucic, Krejci, and Horton could be back together.
But this is a 48-game sprint. Coaches must pull the lineup trigger quicker than usual. Julien and the Bruins showed that desperation can create results.