The Bruins need big things out of each and every one of their lines in the postseason, but no line figures to face as much scrutiny as the trio of David Krejci between Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
The B's underachieved up and down their lineup this season, but Lucic was the biggest regular-season disappointment with just seven goals, while Horton pulled occasional disappearing acts before eventually missing the last five games of the season due to an upper body injury suffered in a fight with Jarome Iginla.
With the playoffs set to begin, Horton is healthy and the line -- one that had so much success two years ago in Boston's Stanley Cup run -- is intact. The trio played together in 37 of the 48 regular-season games this year, but it hasn't played together since April 10 against the Devils -- a span of nine games.
While Krejci had one of his more consistent seasons and finished second on the Bruins with 33 points in 47 games, the pressure is on Lucic and Horton to not only provide offense where they haven't, but to use their big bodies to wear down a Toronto offense that is faster and more skilled than that of the Bruins.
For as talented and flashy as Toronto's top-six forwards are, they're big and strong, too. Nikolai Kulemin stands at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, while the always dangerous James van Riemsdyk is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. Whether the Krejci line plays more against the Leafs' first line (Tyler Bozak between Phil Kessel and van Riemsdyk) or the second line (Nazem Kadri between Joffrey Lupul and Kulemin), it's bound to go up against some big boys who the Bruins will need to both overpower physically and slow down.
"They're a fast team, but they're a big team, too," Horton said. "They're pretty physical. It's not about going to kill guys, it's about finishing your check and just letting them know that you're going to be there and you're going to be in their face and they're not going to have a lot of time. Slowing them down is what we're going to try to do."
Lucic had seven goals on the season, but that looks even worse when you break down when they came. He scored two goals in the first two games of the season before adding two more in the next 12. From there, things came to almost a screeching halt, with three goals over the final 32 games of the season.
This has obviously been a trying season for Lucic. He didn't play during the lockout and he wasn't a regular at his teammates' organized skates at Agganis Arena, as he and his wife were expecting their first child, who was born early in the season. When the lockout ended, there were major questions about his conditioning and whether he was in shape for the season. With the knowledge that he was being doubted, Lucic was motivated to start the season strong and prove people wrong, which he did.
With the playoffs set to begin, it's a familiar feeling for Lucic. The naysayers are loud and clear -- as they should be given his struggles. Lucic has a lot more people to prove wrong, and there couldn't be a better time for him to do it.
"I felt like I definitely had something to prove because there was a lot of questions on [me in the beginning of the season]," Lucic said Tuesday. "In saying that, you want to do whatever you can to help yourself and help your teammates, and that's the most important thing. That's where my mindset is at right now, is helping my teammates and doing whatever I need to do to contribute to this team being successful in the playoffs.”
As for Horton, these playoffs will be an opportunity for him to boost his value as he plays out the final days of his contract before becoming a free agent. It also marks a return to the postseason for him after missing last year’s playoffs due to his second consecutive season-ending concussion.
Horton was a big performer in the 2011 postseason with eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 21 games before Aaron Rome ended his run with a blindside hit in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That was Horton’s first taste of the playoffs after never seeing the postseason in six seasons for the Panthers, and he came through big given that three of his goals were game-winners. He was responsible for both the overtime winner in Game 7 against the Canadiens and the only goal in Boston’s 1-0 win over the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Right now, that doesn’t matter to Horton, who said “nobody really cares what happened” in past postseasons when it comes to these playoffs. What Horton does know is that he’s ready to go in the most important time of the year.
"Going through it and sitting out last year, this is the time of year that you do want to play," Horton said. "The season was definitely hard on everyone this year, playing every other night for most of the year, but you could play every night in the playoffs and you'd still be up for the game because that's the way it is. I'm just excited to be back in it."
The Bruins need more than excitement out of their power forwards. They need physical play and they need relentlessness. Some goals wouldn't hurt either.