BOSTON — Sometimes in sports, a celebration tells you more than just a bunch of grown men are happy to do have done their jobs. In some cases, it gives you an inside look as to how much pressure those same grown men can be under to do their job.
You could certainly sense that on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden when Bruins forwards Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic teamed up for a thunderous skate-by high-five after Horton scored the game’s first goal. If you looked close enough, you’d probably see a couple of monkeys jumping off their backs as well.
Tacky clichés aside, it was arguably the first line’s top showing of the season. The trio of Horton, Lucic and David Krejci were physically involved the entire 60 minutes, and that led directly to production on the stat sheet.
From the line’s first shift of the afternoon, they were able to get pucks deep into the attacking zone. From there, they would unleash the forecheck, and that led to instant offense.
Each had three points on the afternoon, combining for two goals and seven assists. At least two of the forwards were involved on all four Bruins goals, and they even contributed to Washington’s lone goal when Krejci’s attempted clear hit Johnny Boychuk‘s skate and went into the Boston net for the fluky goal.
But other than that, it was all positives from the top line.
“They showed exactly what we needed to see from them on a more consistent basis,” head coach Claude Julien said. “They were skating the north-south type of game, they were forechecking, they were being physical, and because of that, they were able to turn pucks over. Not only that, they were strong on the puck and made their chances count.”
It was especially encouraging to see Horton break out. The big forward hadn’t scored in eight straight games, his last goal coming on Feb. 27 against Ottawa. He ended that drought in the first period, though, thanks in large part to Lucic who was able to outwork Troy Brouwer in the corner to gain the puck and pass it to Horton in the slot for the one-timer.
“Obviously, we haven’t scored for a while, but I think our line played a lot better tonight,” Horton said after the game while sporting a rooster shirt as the team’s player of the game. “Like Claude said, when you’re thinking you’re up and you’re making plays, you make more mistakes when you do that. Just get the puck deep. You saw that on every goal.”
The results are nice, but what must be equally encouraging for the Bruins is the fact that trio was physically engaged. They combined to hand out eight hits, but it felt like it could have been even more. Horton got particularly physical as he became one of a handful of Bruins players who tried to rip off Matt Hendricks‘ head.
“That’s what our team’s all about,” Horton, who collected the Gordie Howe hat trick, said after the game. “When we play that style and we finish our checks, that’s how we know how we’re playing our game. That’s our style.”
Of course, to really be considered a top line, the production must be there night in and night out. That’s always been the problem for the B’s first line. Far too often they go through droughts where they not only lack production but also look unenthused and lackadaisical. Consistency is the big problem. While one dominant game won’t change that fact, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
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