For years, a lot of people in the hockey establishment who should have known better would peddle complete nonsense when it came to European players in the playoffs. They reasoned that since these guys hadn’t grown up worshipping the Stanley Cup, they didn’t care as much and checked out when the paychecks stopped coming.
Thankfully, that sentiment has largely been put to rest over the years. And if there’s anyone who still thinks that, I would suggest you take a look at David Krejci of the Boston Bruins, who has served notice early in these playoffs that he has come to play. Krejci, who capped a hat-trick with an overtime goal in the Bruins 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night, led the league in goals and points when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup two years ago and seems intent on doing the same thing now.
You watch the line of Krejci between Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic play the way they have in these playoffs and it makes you wonder why they can’t be that dominant during the regular season. But who would you rather have, Claude Lemieux or Mike Gartner? In fact, Krejci is one of those very rare players whose offensive production actually goes up in the post-season, when scoring generally goes down. With 309 points in 424 regular season games, Krejci scores at a 0.73 points-per-game pace during the season. But he has 25 goals and 57 points in 63 post-season games, giving him an average of 0.90 points per game when the games mean the most.
“You know what? I feel good,” Krejci said after the game. “It’s going in the net for me and I’m happy about that. I just have to keep going.”
That is not good news for the Maple Leafs, or for the Bruins’ future opponents should Boston advance as expected. With five goals and 10 points in four games, Krejci appears to be a man on a mission. Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game that Krejci can sometimes be his own worst enemy because he gets down on himself when things aren’t going well. That has certainly not been the case early in these playoffs.
“There are certain players who just thrive on playoff hockey and he’s one of those guys,” Julien said. “We know he’s a great playmaker, a skilled player, but the other part too is he doesn’t shy away from traffic or a physical game. He’s very gritty when he needs to be gritty.”
The one word that comes to mind when thinking of Krejci is underrated. It seems to be pretty easy for him to fly under the radar, probably because he has never put up boffo regular season numbers. But linemate Milan Lucic said he recently watched all the Bruins games from the Stanley Cup run from two years ago and marveled at how good Krejci was for them.
“I’ve seen it for six years and it’s pretty amazing in my eyes that it has gone overlooked as long as it has,” Lucic said. “He’s a big-time player. He might be underrated to you guys, but he’s not underrated in this dressing room. Especially to me. I’ve had the opportunity to play with him for four years now as his linemate and I’ve had a lot of fun along the way.”
The reality is that the Maple Leafs don’t have an answer for the mix of skill and power the Bruins have in the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line. The Leafs are not alone in that predicament, though. Once that line gets going on a role the way it is right now, it’s almost impossible to stop.
(As an aside, Horton is a really soft-spoken, easygoing guy. But when you see him in a t-shirt with his bald head and tattoos up and down his arms, he looks like the meanest bad-ass on the planet.)
On his first goal, Krejci went hard to the net and was rewarded. On his second, he took a pass and wired a wrist shot that would be a challenge for any goalie in the league to stop. And in overtime, he carried the puck in on a 2-on-1 after Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf was caught up ice and was looking to pass all the way, but saw that Lucic was on his backhand and resisted dropping off for a Chara one-timer because the big defenseman was covered. Now there’s a guy who can kill you in a variety of ways.
And the job is almost finished. At least for the first round. But you get the distinct feeling that Krecji and his linemates might not be finished just yet. Take notice, Bruin opponents. You’ve been warned.
DAVID KREJCI REACTS TO OVERTIME WINNER
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.