One of the constant themes of the Boston Bruins’ two recent Stanley Cup Final runs was the stellar play of their first line. Through eight games in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, that line has been noticeably quiet.
Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla struggled through the first round against the Detroit Red Wings and haven’t been much better in the second round against the Montreal Canadiens. That continued Tuesday night in the Bruins’ 4-2 loss, as Boston fell behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
While that combination helped score a goal late in the game — with goalie Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker — it otherwise was a non-factor.
Lucic, Krejci and Iginla have combined for just seven goals and eight assists through the Bruins’ first eight playoff games. Of those seven goals, two were empty-netters. The Bruins’ top line also makes up the team’s top power-play unit, and despite Boston’s dominance on the man-advantage in the first round, those three forwards have only one power-play point among them.
Those 15 points are a far cry from what that line produced just last postseason. Boston’s top line combined for 11 goals and 20 assists in the first eight games of the Cup Final run.
Of course, there’s a noticeable difference between last season and now. The Bruins now have Iginla skating on the right wing in place of Nathan Horton, who bolted for Columbus last summer. There wasn’t much of a drop-off at all during the regular season, as Iginla fit right with a team-high-tying 30 goals. However, the consistency that defined them during the regular season has disappeared. That almost certainly can’t be Iginla’s fault alone, though, as all three players have looked out of sorts.
Krejci, who was the Bruins’ most effective forward when they won the Cup in 2011 and in last year’s runner-up finish, has been the biggest offender. He notched 14 of his 26 points through those first eight games last year. He has just three points this year (one on an empty-netter) and is just 24-for-54 in the faceoff circle after a 4-for-14 showing in Game 3.
“This is a line that has been hot and cold for us in the playoffs so far,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien told reporters after Game 3. “David has shown a little bit of frustration, so he’s got to battle through that stuff. It’s a line that’s given us a lot this year, and sometimes you have to have a little bit of trust, and that’s what I’ve got right now. It’s got to get better for that line for us to be successful.”
The issues aren’t limited to a lack of offensive production, either. The first line was on the ice for Montreal’s first goal in Game 3 on Tuesday, as Iginla lost track of Tomas Plekanec, allowing him to slide in the back door and score on a Thomas Vanek slap pass that went right through the middle of the ice. The first line also was on the ice for even-strength goals in Games 1 and 2.
For now, Julien insists that he trusts the line to right the ship. Julien also seems unwilling to roll the dice and shake up his top three lines, which means it’s on Krejci, Lucic and Iginla to figure things out for themselves. They need to reward their coach’s patience, and Game 4 on Thursday night would be a very good time to do so.
If they don’t snap out of it and provide the Bruins with stable and efficient play at the top, Boston’s season might be coming to a close.