Thank goodness for Torey Krug.
That’s what every Bruins fan is thinking and saying right now after the Bruins took care of business and eliminated the Rangers with a 3-1 win in Game 5 Saturday evening at TD Garden.
The Bruins were up 3-1 in the series Saturday and wanted to close out the Broadway Blueshirts in the worst way. "Please no return to New York for Memorial Day," every player, coach and fan was thinking to themselves.
But Game 5 didn’t start out well for the Bruins, who fell behind 1-0 after one period on a power play goal by Dan Girardi. Fans were cheering on the outside but nervous on the inside. This couldn’t be happening again.
Thanks to the rookie defenseman who spent most of this shortened season in Providence, those fears would be vanquished.
Krug unloaded another laser past Henrik Lundqvist on the power play 3:48 into the second period. Tie game.
“I saw Segs [Tyler Seguin] had the puck up top,” Krug said. “I just tried to get out there. I just hopped onto the ice from the bench and just tried to get open in position to get my shot through. When I take one-timers, I just try to make the goalie make a save with his hands, and fortunately it went in.”
It went in and the momentum was back with Boston, never to return to the Rangers.
“Yeah, I think obviously that was the turning point for us,” said a confident Krug. “Getting the shots through, trying to cause havoc in the crease, I think that was a point of emphasis coach made between the first and second [periods]. I think that power play was the turning point for the game.”
Gregory Campbell scored nearly 10 minutes later and, aside from a lead-preserving spectacular save on Ryan Callahan in the third period by Tuukka Rask, the rest of the game felt like a formality.
The Bruins were the better, deeper team through the series. And Krug was a huge reason why. The Bruins entered this series down three veteran defensemen in Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden and Andrew Ference. What in the world were the Bruins going to do? How would they manage with three rookie defensemen?
Krug to the rescue. He scored in his first two playoff games and scored again in Games 4 and 5. He wasn’t just a rookie filling in. He was an offensive weapon from the blue line. Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski had their moments and played very well considering the stage and the pressure.
But Krug? He took it to a whole new level. How confident does he feel after one of the best playoff debuts in Bruins history?
“It’s pretty high,” Krug told me with a sheepish grin afterward. “It’s a good feeling out there, and the more the coaching staff puts me out on the ice, the better I feel. It’s a great feeling when your teammates are coming up to you, patting you on the back, and all the credit in the world to everyone.”
With the exception of the third period in Game 2, Lundqvist was Gotham’s Superman in this series, stopping shot after shot from the Bruins from practically every angle.
Krug proved to be his Kryptonite. He scored four goals in five games of the series against King Henrik. Those were the first five playoff games of Krug’s playoff career.
Krug wasn’t the Man of Steel. To Claude Julien and the Bruins he was something much different - and stronger.
“You always hope that guys can come in and help your team out. There’s no doubt he was magic for us in this series,” Julien glowed afterward. “To score that many goals and show the confidence that he showed playing in this series is pretty outstanding. He’s a player that we’ve always felt good about in our organization. As I said, he’s shown what he’s all about. We said ice in his veins and that’s what he’s got.”
The thing you notice about Krug and the way he handles his success is that he knows the fine line between soaking in the atmosphere that is a Bruins home playoff game and focusing on the task at hand, which is balancing his offensive skills with his defensive responsibilities.
“Yeah, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “I’m glad we closed it out tonight in front of a great crowd. It was so loud in there I could barely hear myself think sometimes. It was a great experience.
“You definitely have to balance that. Every game I’ve been able to take a step back before the National Anthem, look around, close my eyes, think about everything for a second, understand how special this is. With that, I just go out there and play my game and just try to contribute to the team in any way possible. Every game I seem to find a way to.”
Krug right now is what Dougie Hamilton was early in this shortened season. He is the newest, hottest thing. But the 22-year-old Krug has the age advantage – albeit only two years – of experience over Hamilton. While we're throwing movie nicknames around, Shawn Thornton had a good one for Krug - Freddy - as in Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street fame.
“Those kids have stepped in, especially Freddy, he played unbelievable, not even just the points. I’ve said it before, all the little plays he made, carrying the puck, having poise, having patience with it, making the smart plays, holding the blueline in the offensive zone and he played hard too. He’s not that big of a defensemen, but he plays a lot bigger than he is,” Thornton said.
Krug also played on a huge college hockey stage at Michigan State and elected to sign with the Bruins on March 25, 2012 season because he knew the possibilities.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Krug said. “When I signed, I chose Boston for this reason. I wanted to win a Stanley Cup. I knew that they expected to win the Stanley Cup year after year, and I knew that we were going to be in contention every year. I’m glad that I just got the opportunity to come in, step in and contribute and try to help the team win. It’s been an unbelievable year, for sure.”
Now the stage becomes even bigger - and the stakes higher. Torey Krug won’t take the Pittsburgh Penguins by surprise in the Eastern Conference finals. Ironically, it was against the Penguins on April 3, 2012 that he made his NHL debut. The Penguins can read a score sheet just like everyone else. How will Krug respond now that some will actually expect him to produce like he did in this round?
“I have to do things like that if I want to stick around in this league,” Krug said of the scoring expectations. “If I’m not going to be scoring or making an impact in the offensive zone, I’m not going to stick around. They’re just going to find a bigger guy who can do those things. Hopefully, I can continue. And like I said, I’m just trying to contribute every chance I get.”
If the Bruins are to have any chance of matching the firepower of the mighty Penguins, they will need all the confidence and goals they can get from their "Magic Man."