BOSTON — The Bruins needed their top line to step up and play a strong game Tuesday night against one of the NHL’s best teams in the San Jose Sharks.
The Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Seth Griffith trio answered the challenge in a 5-3 win.
Patrice Bergeron’s line had its worst game of the season, combining for an even-strength shot differential of minus-20 and zero points during 5-on-5 play. But the B’s first line bailed them out with its best performance of the season.
Krejci tallied an assist and a game-clinching empty-net goal, Lucic chipped in a season-high three assists and Seth Griffith scored his first career NHL goal to tie the score 3-3 in the third period.
“I think it definitely was the best game that we’ve played so far this season,” Lucic said. “You saw we were hungry in the O-zone and hungry getting pucks to the net. We made some smart decisions in some important areas and it just seems like things are starting to head in the right direction. You go back to that Detroit game last Wednesday where we really wanted to turn things around and we upped our competitive level, and I think it’s rolling along here and getting three out of the last four games here.”
The Krejci line controlled puck possession with a combined even-strength shot differential of plus-33 despite starting just 40 percent of their 5-on-5 shifts in the attacking zone. Three reasons why this line was able to transition from defense to offense were good faceoff work by Krejci (who won 11 of his 16 draws), a strong forecheck and winning puck battles along the boards.
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Now that Krejci and Lucic are healthy and reunited, and Griffith is handling himself well at right wing, the Bruins are starting to become a more balanced team with three lines consistently creating scoring chances. The B’s have averaged 4.33 goals per game in their last three contests after scoring only 1.2 goals in the first six games.
Krejci has led the resurgence of his line. The veteran center has a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists) and the Bruins are 3-2 in that span. The 28-year-old forward led Boston in scoring with 69 points in 2013-14, and he’s now tied for the team lead with six points (two goals, four assists) in five games.
Griffith’s role on the top line is an important one. The Bruins have tried at least four different players in Jarome Iginla’s old spot since the start of the preseason, and it’s not easy for Krejci and Lucic to adjust to new linemates every couple of games. Griffith has played well enough to earn more ice time in the first-line right wing role with his excellent shot and willingness to battle for pucks in dirty areas and crash the net. The 23-year-old forward makes up for his lack of size (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) with superb effort and is improving his defensive positioning and awareness with each game.
The next challenge for the Bruins’ top line is to maintain its scoring production against two quality opponents — the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs — to close the week.
“Well, you’re back to .500, meaning now we’ve got to get going and get on the positive side of the standings here,” B’s head coach Claude Julien said.
“It’s nice to see. Again, I’d say the last three or four games have been more what our team is all about. It’s a matter of sticking with it and trying to get better in certain areas. This was a tough team we played tonight and we’re going to have another tough game again Thursday against the Islanders.”
Photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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