Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci have been the hammer that smashes the hopes of the Toronto Maple Leafs to pieces in this NHL playoff series.
Every time the Leafs get a little something going, the Boston Bruins second line is there to pound them back to earth.
They did it in the first game, when the Leafs survived a bad start and took the lead, only to see Lucic and company grab the lead for the Bruins and finish them off with three consecutive goals.
And they did it again Monday, silencing 19,746 fans at the Air Canada Centre just 50 seconds after they had exploded over a Leafs goal in the first playoff game in Toronto in nine years.
It was done in classic Lucic-Horton fashion: Lucic powering his way down the left side, throwing the puck in front of the net to Horton, who fired it behind Leafs goaltender James Reimer for the unit’s second game-winning goal in three games.
In the wake of the 5-2 Bruins win, which gives them a 2-1 lead in the first-round, best-of-seven series, the Leafs are once again left grasping for ways to counter the Bruins depth. They just don’t have the defensive players to counter the Bruins’ balanced attack – especially when the third line of Jaromir Jagr, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley is skating the way it did Monday.
“They get us going,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said of Krejci’s line. Rask stepped up in the third period to block 18 shots, finishing with 45 saves.
Lucic said Horton’s second-period goal “was the biggest goal for us so far through the series, especially since we talked about the crowd and the way they were going and it seemed like they were creating a lot of momentum.”
The crowd, a sea of white clad in the scarves handed out by the Leafs before the game, was starting to fade in the second period with the Leafs as the Bruins took a 2-0 lead. The Leafs were wilting under a merciless game of puck pursuit and net-crashing led by Lucic, Horton and Krejci, who engineered Boston’s first goal.
The Leafs simply cannot contain Lucic, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound force who specializes in knocking opponents off the puck while Horton goes to the net and Krejci handles the fancy stuff.
Fifty seconds after defenceman Jake Gardiner finally gave the crowd something to cheer about with his first NHL playoff goal to get the Leafs back in it at 13 minutes 45 seconds, Lucic and Horton struck to put the Bruins back in front by two – and silence the crowd before fans were back in their seats.
Then, after the Leafs rallied in the third period only to see Rask hold them off, the Krejci line applied the final blow with an empty-net goal at 18:43.
In three games in this series, Horton has three goals, while Lucic has six assists and Krejci has eight points. Not bad for a line that was the subject of much concern going into the playoffs because both Lucic and Horton had mediocre campaigns in the regular season with just 20 goals between them.
It was just the sort of night Lucic was looking for. A day earlier, he was telling reporters how much he liked silencing hostile crowds, such as in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, when he and his teammates shut up the Vancouver Canucks fans in Lucic’s hometown to win the championship.
“What makes the game great, as much as it is fun and awesome to get your crowd cheering when you make a big play or score a goal and they’re cheering, but to silence a crowd is a different feeling, it’s cool,” Lucic said last Sunday. “It’s tough to explain, it’s almost an accomplishment. You have to do your best to feed off an opposing crowd and kind of get yourself going as you would off your home crowd.”
A little more than 24 hours later, Lucic said, yep, that really was pretty cool.
“It was fun,” he said. “You can tell the crowd was into it, kind of a sea of white with all of them having those nice little scarves that they had.
“[The Leafs] came out hard and played well, but getting that first goal kind of took a little bit of pressure off of us, kind of helped us ease into our game, relax a bit. We played good from then on.”