Now we can really say the playoffs have begun for the Boston Bruins. And David Krejci made sure it got off on the right foot.
The standard thinking is that a playoff series doesn’t begin in earnest until the visiting team wins a game.
That happened on Saturday night when the Leafs stole a game in Boston in Game 2. It happened again on Monday night when the Bruins reclaimed home-ice advantage with a 5-2 win at Air Canada Centre.
The Bruins entered Wednesday with a 2-1 series lead, but until Wednesday there was no defining moment of the series. No true urgency. That all changed thanks to 73 minutes of the most dramatic hockey the Bruins have played this season, and thanks of course to Krejci's second career playoff hat trick that produced a 4-3 Bruins win.
Wednesday’s game in Toronto is what the Stanley Cup is all about -- great drama, frenetic end-to-end hockey in a tie game. The Bruins-Leafs playoff encounter in the first round of the playoffs is why hockey fans will tell you that their sport has the best playoffs anywhere.
Nastiness, big hits, big shots, big goals and big-time drama in one of hockey’s greatest meccas, Game 4 between the Bruins and Maple Leafs had it all.
There was Johnny Boychuk blocking a shot with his right knee. There was Patrice Bergeron blocking a drive at the end of the second period to help the Bruins kill off a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
Chris Kelly suffered a nasty gash under his right eye when Nazem Kadri caught him with a high stick that gave Boston four minutes of power play. Kelly required several stitches but returned.
Mark Fraser took a scary puck to the face minutes later. After Boston took its only lead 3-2 on David Krejci’s second goal of the game in the second period, the Leafs scored the equalizer 44 seconds later. The game was tied 3-3 and the last goal of regulation had been scored.
But that was hardly the end of the action. Nathan Horton had a pair of point-blank chances in the third. Krejci had a chance in close.
There were endless end-to-end rushes by both teams in the final two minutes, including chances by Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin that would’ve ended the game in regulation.
But a regulation finish certainly didn’t seem fitting the way the two teams played.
Rask, shunned by Vezina Trophy voters (i.e. NHL general managers) earlier in the day, made his statement in overtime, making game-saving stop after game-saving stop. First on James van Riemsdyk, then Matt Frattin, then a post by Phil Kessel, then Joffrey Lupul, who was so sure of his shot that he raised his stick in premature celebration before looking down and seeing the puck in Rask’s glove as he skated around the net.
“I think they definitely wanted to win this game for the sake of going back to Boston tied,” Bruins coach Claude Julien noted. “At the same time, we wanted to win this game as well to put ourselves in the position to just have to win one more game.
“In overtime, it was about making sure we made plays and not pass up on shots. Rask made a great save there on Lupul. He was screened and stuck the glove out and made the save, and that was huge for us. There was a post there by Kessel. You need breaks in the playoffs and we got some in overtime and you make your own. We scored on the opportunity that was given to us.”
How appropriate this game would end on the stick of David Krejci. He took off down the left side, with Milan Lucic, when Dion Phaneuf took out Nathan Horton in the B's defensive zone. The puck stayed on Krejci’s stick until it went through the pads of James Reimer.
Game over. Bruins win, 4-3, 13 minutes into an exhilarating yet nerve-wracking overtime.
Has the switch finally been flipped?
“Guys kept talking about flicking a switch and stuff like that, but I mentioned at the start of the series that I really felt our team was turning a corner in the last week and a half,” Julien said. “But unfortunately, we had six games in nine nights and we didn’t get the results, but you could see the effort, you could see the focus, you could see our players getting more physical, more involved.”
None more so than Krejci. This is the center of the team’s top line who heard all the whispers about not showing up during the regular season after 10 goals and 23 assists in 47 games. This is also the same Krejci who won the Stanley Cup scoring title in 2011 and the same Krejci who now has five goals in the first four games of the 2013 playoffs.
“I felt confident. I said that to our guys. I said that to our coaches that we’re going to be OK here. Maybe that’s where the experience comes in because guys know that even if it was a 48-game schedule, it was a real long year, and especially when you consider playing every second day the last couple of months.”
“It was a long regular season because of that and I think everybody was looking forward to getting to the most exciting part of the year, and this is playoff hockey,” Julien said.
In the Stanley Cup, the playoffs don’t begin until you’ve experienced an overtime thriller. For the Bruins, it’s never too late to get a start.