The disappearance of the Bruins’ top line in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Montreal Canadiens has been well documented. Until Jarome Iginla netted a power play goal in Game 5 at TD Garden, all that the B’s first grouping had accomplished was an empty-net goal by Milan Lucic to seal a Game 2 win and a deflection off of Iginla’s stick in the third period of Game 3. Long stretches of play came and went with Iginla, Lucic and most of all, center David Krejci, completely missing in action.
The invisibility of the top line was mitigated somewhat by the consistency of the B’s second and third lines, particularly third line center Carl Soderberg. But another equalizer to Boston’s top line woes came from Montreal’s first line pulling the same kind of no-show. If the Krejci-Iginla-Lucic group was nowhere, it had company in the persons of Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Thomas Vanek, who would eventually be replaced by Brendan Gallagher. Other than a couple of power play deflections past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask off the stick of Vanek, that group did exactly squat through the first five games of the series, as well.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens’ top group finally showed up in their 4-0 Game 6 win while the Bruins No. 1 line remained completely and stunningly silent.
Pacioretty, who scored 39 goals in the regular season, had just one in his first nine playoff games before jumping on a loose puck in the neutral zone late in the second period, racing past a lead footed Zdeno Chara and catching Rask in no man’s land to give Montreal a 2-0 lead. A little over two minutes later, Vanek, who completed the scoring with an empty net goal at 16:04 of the third, scored on the power play, assisted by you guessed it, Pacioretty, to make the score 3-zip.
While it could certainly be argued that Pacioretty was simply in the right place at the right time on his goal, he still took advantage of the opportunity. It’s probably not a coincidence that he was right in the middle of Vanek’s backbreaker two minutes later. And about nine minutes into the third period, NBC’s ice level reporter Pierre Maguire pointed out that to him, Pacioretty was skating as well as he had at any point in the series.
All of which brings us back to the guys on the B’s top line, who can no longer take comfort in their opposite numbers being just as confounding. Lucic, who finally exerted his will physically in Game 5 after drifting through the first four games, was back to square one in this loss, whiffing on two golden, wide open chances, pushing another directly through the crease despite standing about two feet from an open net and taking a bad penalty in the third period that looked like it was borne completely out of frustration. Iginla got a couple of shots on Montreal goaltender Carey Price and would have had a third period goal if not for some terribly unlucky backspin, but like in Games 1-4 was most noticeable for how little his name was called by NBC play-by-play man Kenny Albert.
And then there’s Krejci, whose ongoing ineffectiveness has moved past being mysterious, strange, and frustrating and is now just kind of sad. He said all the right things before Game 6, remarking on how “his time is about to come” and that he “owes it to these guys,” in regard to his teammates. But when it came time to play, he was still as lost as he’s been all postseason long, giving up shots in favor of attempting low percentage passes and making a handful of other questionable decisions. Krejci, who led the league in playoff scoring both last year and in 2011, has just one assist in this entire series. That it came on Lucic’s empty netter only adds insult to injury. Krejci’s monumental slump is in his head and it clearly shows.
With the exception of about a seven- or eight-minute stretch in the second period, the Bruins were terrible across the board in this one. Knowing that Montreal would be playing for its life, the B’s offered little resistance, committing a truckload of bad turnovers, failing to finish every good chance and experiencing even more of the bad luck that’s plagued them for the balance of the series. And it certainly didn’t help that Montreal cashed in seemingly every opportunity despite having significantly fewer of them.
Still, despite the collective failure of the team, the top line offering up yet another doughnut was as glaring a reason for the loss as any. That the Canadiens big guns finally stepped up made it look even worse.