Overlooked and underappreciated: Meet David Krejci, the best-kept secret on the Bruins

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

During the dark days of the NHL lockout, Milan Lucic passed the time by going back in time. NESN filled holes in its programming schedule by replaying the Boston Bruins’ march to the 2011 Stanley Cup. Lucic had lived it, but when he relived it, he saw it from a new perspective.

“You kind of forget some of the things that went on,” Lucic said.

Some things are hard to forget: Tim Thomas’ goaltending, Nathan Horton’s Game 7 goals, Zdeno Chara’s looming presence, Patrice Bergeron’s two-way play, Brad Marchand’s beak. But because the Bruins were such a deep, balanced team, some things are a little lost, like Dennis Seidenberg’s defense and David Krejci’s offense.

Especially David Krejci’s offense.

Thomas deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player for keeping the puck out of the net, but someone had to put the puck in the net, and Krejci led the league in goals (12) and points (23). Still, when Bruins coach Claude Julien said Wednesday that “he was obviously probably our most valuable player until the injury a couple years ago,” Julien was referring to Horton, not Krejci.

“I’ve seen it for six years now, and it’s pretty amazing in my eyes that it’s gone overlooked as long as it has,” Lucic said. “He’s a big-time player.”

Let’s not make the same mistake again. It’s early in terms of the two-month tournament, but Krejci again leads the league in goals (five) and points (10). The Lucic-Krejci-Horton line has produced eight goals – 40 percent of the Bruins’ offense – and 22 points as the B’s have taken a 3-1 lead in their first-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Krejci and Horton are tied for the league lead at plus-7. Lucic is plus-6.

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Krejci will never be confused with Sidney Crosby. He isn’t even considered the Bruins’ best centerman, thanks to Bergeron’s all-round acumen. Heck, Krejci draws the third-most attention on his own line, after Lucic and Horton. But he is one of those rare players who produces more when the games mean more and the space is less.

Never has Krejci scored more than 23 goals in an 82-game regular season. Yet he has 25 goals in 63 career playoff games. His goals-per-game average skyrockets from .214 in the regular season to .396 in the playoffs. With 57 career playoff points, his points-per-game average rises from .728 in the regular season to .904 in the playoffs, too.

You don’t do that if you’re a soft, playmaking centerman, even if you have the luxury of playing between two top power forwards. Krejci can be tough. He can shoot the puck.

He could have had four goals in Game 4, ringing a shot off the post, and his hat trick showed how many ways he can beat you: He crashed the net and scored a dirty goal. He rocketed a one-timer from the left circle on the power play. He carried the puck patiently on a 2-on-1 rush, noticed Lucic was on his backhand and took the shot himself, finding a hole through goaltender James Reimer for the overtime winner.

“It makes him unpredictable,” Julien said. “When he’s not shooting and he’s not maybe at the top of his game, often you’ll see him looking to pass. Now he’s taking whatever is given to him. Sometimes it’s a pass. Sometimes it’s a shot.

“Right now everything about David is good. He’s been good on draws. He’s been good at scoring goals. He’s making great plays. He’s involved in the gritty areas. He’s been physical. He’s been all around such a great player. That’s what makes him good.

“Maybe everybody would like to see him do that for 82 games. Unfortunately that’s not the case.”

That’s the rub. If Krejci did more during the regular season, if he were a flashier player on the ice or a better quote off the ice, maybe he would have a higher profile. Asked what it is about the playoffs that brings out the best in him, this is all the soft-spoken Czech said: “I just try and do my best, play as hard as I can.”

Does that mean he isn’t trying his best or playing as hard as he can during the regular season? Probably not. It might just mean that the playoffs suit him better. Maybe he shoots more because the style becomes simpler. Maybe he gets grittier because the games become tougher. Maybe it has something to do with his linemates, too.

Lucic struggled in the regular season. He struggled so badly that Julien made him a healthy scratch down the stretch. That no doubt gave him a kick in the butt, but the playoffs – and the Leafs’ hard-hitting approach – no doubt gave him a punch in the nose, waking him up.

“It’s no secret that’s Looch’s game,” said Bruins center Chris Kelly. “He’s a big, strong guy that plays physical. I’m sure a lot of teams say, ‘Let him sleep. Don’t poke the angry bear.’ In the playoffs, it’s a more physical game, and he thrives at that.”

Meanwhile, Horton, the big-game goal-scorer, scored in each of the first three games against the Leafs.

Asked about his wingers thriving directly because of the playoffs’ style, Krejci said: “If they want to be good players, if they want to do well, that’s how they have to play. That’s how they play so far. Once they’re on top of their game, there’s not many players who can stop them. I’m just happy I’m on their line.”

Just as they’re happy that they’re on his.

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If the Bruins win the Cup, different players likely will have carried them at different times. Example: Krejci was quiet in the first round two years ago with only one goal and one point against the Montreal Canadiens while the Kelly-Rich Peverley-Michael Ryder line starred.

The Bruins need more from the Bergeron line. Bergeron has only one goal. Marchand has two assists. Tyler Seguin has zero points. But it hasn’t mattered against the Leafs, and Krejci always seems to be key.

Go back to 2010, when the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead in the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers. What was the turning point? Krejci, who had three goals and six points in his last four games, suffered a wrist injury. He didn’t play in Games 4 through 7.

Go back to 2011, when the Bruins won the Cup. Who put the Bruins in position to win it? After his slow start against the Habs, Krejci had four goals and nine points in a second-round sweep of the Flyers. Then he had five goals and seven points in a seven-game conference final victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, before putting up two goals and five points in seven games against the Vancouver Canucks.

That stood out to Lucic when he watched the replays on NESN. Everyone remembers the three overtime victories over the Canadiens and the bitter battle with the Canucks more than what happened in between.

“Those are two series that don’t get talked about enough in that Cup run,” Lucic said. “But to see him, the way he was able to step up his game, it kind of lifted the team to the Stanley Cup final.”

Now go back to last year. As the Bruins celebrated a victory in their playoff opener against the Washington Capitals, a pane of Plexiglas fell on Krejci’s head. Krejci didn’t seem the same afterward. He produced one goal and three points. The Bruins lost that first-round series in seven games.

“I know I had a good run a couple years ago,” Krejci said. “But I also know I had a bad run last year.”

That’s one replay Krejci doesn’t want.

“I guess you can say that,” Krejci said.

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