BOSTON — The nerve-wracking nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs can be too much for some players. Conversely, there are also those who rise to the occasion when the lights shine brightest. Through the first two postseason games of his career, Torey Krug appears to belong in the latter group.
If playing your game — and succeeding at playing your game — are the true barometers for comfort in sports, then it would appear the Bruins rookie defenseman is more than comfortable right now. With injuries taking their toll on the Boston blue line, Krug, along with Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton, have been called on to play some big minutes in the club’s second-round series with the Rangers.
All have been impressive in a variety of ways, but none of them have contributed on the stat sheet through two games against New York like Krug has. The Michigan State product scored his first career goal in Game 1, and he followed that up with a goal and an assist in Game 2.
It’s not just the points Krug is putting up but also the way that he’s doing it that has been so impressive. Krug’s undeniable offensive skill was on display Sunday in Game 2 on both of the goals he was involved in. He scored the team’s first goal in the first period, when he sprinted up to join the rush before jumping into the offensive zone to take a pass from Nathan Horton. Krug’s speed put him a little ahead of the puck, but he was able to tip the puck to slow it down before putting it through his legs, steadying it and then firing one through Henrik Lundqvist.
Krug did it again in the second period, when he used his right skate to kick a pass from Adam McQuaid to his stick before putting it at the net. The puck deflected off New York defenseman Dan Girardi‘s skate right to Gregory Campbell in the slot, and the Boston center roofed one under the crossbar by Lundqvist.
“Yeah, that’s a skill that sometimes you work on it after practice,” Krug stated simply about the nifty footwork. “You don’t have to work on it too much. It’s just a couple extra reps here or there at the end, picking up pucks with your feet. So, it’s just something that I try to do, and I was lucky enough that it bounced my way.”
Krug’s contributions weren’t all quantifiable by numbers, though. He also logged some power play and penalty kill time, and he looked incredibly poised and comfortable with the puck on his stick. At one point in the second period, with the Bruins on the power play, Krug skated the puck (backwards, mind you) across the point before setting up a scoring chance on the man-advantage. Paired with Hamilton at the point on the second power play unit, Krug gave the Bruins and their fans a look that they could be seeing quite a lot of in the coming years.
“The last thing you want to do is get those guys to play on their heels or play afraid to make a mistake,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Confidence goes a long way in this game. When coaches are able to give players confidence, it shows, because it makes a big difference.”
Despite the impressive performance, Krug only ended up logging 12:56 of ice time, which was the lowest of any Bruins defenseman. That’s all part of the balancing act that Julien must master in order to make sure that Krug’s talent and skill set are fully utilized, but not to the point that he becomes exposed and hurts the club during the most important time of the year.
But so far, Julien and the Bruins are pushing the right buttons when it comes to the rookie D-men, especially Krug. His confidence — judging by both his play and his words — is high right now, which is of utmost importance for success at this time of year.
“Yeah, well, I’m a player,” Krug said. “I’m [5-foot-9], I’m not very big, I have to play with the puck to be an impact player. So, for me you’ve got to be confident with the puck. If I’m not making plays, I’m not going to be effective, and guys are going to go out there, and they’re just going to find a [6-foot-2] guy that can do the same thing without the puck. So, you just got to be confident and play with the puck.”
So far, so good for Krug. As the Bruins’ veteran defensemen get healthy, Julien and his coaching staff will have a difficult decision to make as to what to do with the lineup. Krug has made that choice a tough one for the B’s, and it’s also the same reason they’re just two wins away from advancing.