The Walking Dead have life after all.
For one, brief, glorious moment Thursday night, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla shed their Whipping Boy capes and exchanged them (well, Iginla at least) for the “Old Time Hockey” varsity jacket the Bruins give their teammate for being the player of the game. Iginla, a ghost much of the evening, earned the honor by tipping in a Dougie Hamilton shot that glanced off Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser and past Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson for Boston’s 3-2 overtime win that gave the Bruins a commanding 3-1 lead in their quarterfinal playoff series against Hockeytown’s staunch, yet overmatched young’uns.
The Bruins can close out the series Saturday afternoon at the Garden. Maybe Iginla and Krejci will decide to show up again.
While some of the blame for the Bruins’ need to take the Red Wings to overtime Thursday night can lay squarely on the shoulders of Brad Marchand, who whiffed on not one, but two sure things, including an erroneous shot that will go down in the annals of NHL blooper reels, it’s the Bruins’ top line that deserves the bulk of the criticism, not only in Game 4, but for this series. Milan Lucic tied Thursday’s game at two with a magnificent dish from Carl Soderberg behind the net in the third period. Does he get that opportunity if it were linemates Iginla or Krejci attempting to make the same move?
Just minutes earlier in the overtime period, Krejci had a great opportunity at taking a shot at Gustavsson, who got the start in net after Jimmy Howard (reportedly) came down with the flu, but instead dished it to Iginla last-second. For the second time in the extra frame, Iginla handled the puck about as if he were summoning Thursday’s Red Sox defense (five errors). The fact that the No. 1 line rebounded and found just a bit of fortune at 13:32 had Bruins fans fluctuating between emotions of elation and “It’s about damned time.”
“We had a good shift,” Iginla said. “I thought we had a little bit of zone time, some plays, some rotations, some corner battles. Krech made a nice pass over to Dougie. I was just going to the net and Looch was already in front of the net, battling with one of their guys. I was just trying to get a stick on it and tip it.”
Let’s discount the erroneous notion that Iginla is giving the Bruins what he gave the Penguins in the playoffs last year, which would be nothing. In fact, Iginla was having a tremendous playoff run (four goals, eight assists in 11 games) last spring before Pittsburgh ran into the Bruins in the Eastern Conference final, where he was completely shut down.
This year, he’s second to Patrice Bergeron with three points (one goal, two assists). But you have to wonder how much better his stats might look if Krejci’s face weren’t on the carton of milk you poured into your Golden Grahams this morning.
You remember Krejci, right? He centers the Bruins’ top line, but in this series, he’s probably remembered more for being the center of confusion. This is bizarro Krejci, a player noted for turning so-so regular seasons into Conne Smythe-worthy postseasons. In 2013-14, Krejci enjoyed the most consistent regular season of his career, but with Thursday night’s assist, he now has any many playoff points as teammate Jordan Caron.
“If we win and I have no points, it happens just like it happened today,” Krejci told WEEI.com. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad we won tonight. In a playoff, you need different guys to step up at different times.
“You learn over the course of your career — seven years, it’s about average in the league, but I think I have a lot of NHL playoff experience — guys step up at different times in different rounds. I’m just trying to do my job this round and try to do everything I can to give our team a chance to win the game and the series. Maybe in other series, it’s going to be different, but you have to take care of this one first. We’ve been doing a pretty OK job and we’re up 3-1, so why change it now?”
Sure, why change it now? After all, the Bruins are a timely tip away from having this series tied at two heading back to Boston.
This isn’t to discount that the Krejci line didn’t step up when the Bruins absolutely needed it to the most, but Claude Julien deserves much better than what he’s seen. Krejci’s words almost make it seem like he’s waiting for a bigger stage than this to start racking up the points. Like, save it for the Habs?
If not for Tuukka Rask’s dominance in the first period, we’d likely be talking about a heck of a lot of concern for the Bruins heading into the weekend. Rask stopped 14 of the surging Red Wings’ 15 shots in the opening period Thursday night, and with just the 1-0 lead, the analysis was pretty prevalent: “That’s the best the Wings can throw at you.”
And Rask made Detroit’s best a completely-manageable one-goal deficit.
“We weathered the storm in the first period,” Rask said. “They had a step on us and kept the lead, but I think we got better as the game went on and we got rewarded there.
“They were a lot more physical and had a lot of screens and shots I didn’t see. It was the best of them I think.”
The exact same can be said for Krejci, who has turned the Bruins’ leading scorer into an enigma in this series. This is where Krejci is supposed to shine, yet he’s been little more than a dim bulb from start to finish. Luckily, there was a flicker of energy Thursday night.
The last time the Bruins were up 3-1 in a playoff series, it took seven to put Toronto away last May. The way the suffocating Bruins defense and Rask (his playoff GAA ballooned from 0.67 to 0.96 after Game 4) are playing this will be over in five. Especially if Krejci and friends decide to show up Saturday.
“We talked about going out there and playing to win and holding nothing back,” Lucic said. “3-1 is a lot different than 2-2 and when you have the mind-set and the confidence of going out there and getting that goal and getting that win, that is big.”
The ghosts have life. On Saturday, it’s time to haunt the offseason dreams of the Red Wings.