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Penguins vs Bruins

Bruins' top line outshining star-studded Penguins

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor

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Bruins' top line outshining star-studded Penguins
The Boston Bruins' trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has overshadowed the star-studded forwards of the Pittsburgh Penguins through two games in the Eastern Conference Final.

BOSTON -- Entering the Eastern Conference Final, the series was pitted as a battle of the Pittsburgh Penguins' offensive dominance against the stingy defense of the Boston Bruins.

With the Penguins icing a star-studded cast led by two of the best players in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the focus in analyzing the Bruins' chances of pulling off the upset fell on defenseman Zdeno Chara and Selke Trophy candidate Patrice Bergeron.

But the Bruins have some pretty good offensive players of their own, and they've shown it in jumping to a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series heading into Game 3 Wednesday at TD Garden in Boston (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

David Krejci was leading the Stanley Cup Playoff scoring race before the series began, and all he's done is extend that lead with three goals in the first two games of the series to give him eight goals and 12 assists in 13 games. Linemates Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have followed his lead, with Horton notching two goals and three assists through two games and Lucic picking up two assists in the series.

The offensive powerhouse line of this series, at least to this point, is the one that was somewhat overlooked coming into it.

"We're just going out there and playing our game and finish off our opportunities when we get them. It's worked for us so far," Lucic said following the 6-1, Game 2 win Monday. "I think our line's success has come with just keeping things simple and playing straight-line hockey. That's what we need to continue doing to be successful."

What the Bruins' top line is accomplishing offensively shouldn't come as much of a surprise; each of the three players have produced at a higher rate in the postseason than they have in the regular season over his career.

Lucic's point-per-game average over 405 regular-season games is 0.59, but in 76 playoff games it's 0.62. In the case of Horton and Krejci, the difference is dramatic. Horton jumps from 0.68 points per game in the regular season to 0.97 in the playoffs, and Krejci goes from 0.73 to 0.92.

Though Horton and Lucic are seen as the muscle on the line, big power forwards with good touch around the net, it is the speed with which they are playing that has most impressed Krejci.

"Sometimes it's hard to keep up with those two guys," Krejci told reporters at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., on Tuesday after the team arrived home from Pittsburgh. "But they're really skating hard. So any time we skate as a line, we have success. So we've just got to keep it going."

In spite of Horton's history of upping his game in the playoffs, his production could be considered a surprise when you look at how he finished the regular season. Over his final eight games he scored one goal and had a minus-3 rating. In 13 playoff games, he has seven goals, 10 assists and a League-best plus-19 rating.

"His energy level is really up there and he just wants to win so bad," Krejci said. "He wants to score, he wants to make a difference every shift. So every game he brings his A game, and it helps me and [Lucic] as well."

The added benefit of Krejci's line producing offensively is that their ability to spend the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone has contributed greatly to the fact none of the Penguins' big offensive weapons have registered a point in two games. Krejci, Lucic and Horton have faced Crosby's or Malkin's lines on numerous occasions through the first two games, and when they get their cycle game going it can be difficult and taxing to stop.

When you can force Crosby or Malkin to battle down low chasing you for an entire shift, the positive effect for the Bruins is creating a sense of frustration and tiring out the Penguins' star players. And if the Bruins do happen to lose the puck with their top line on the ice, the backchecking has managed to produce some turnovers and stifle any counterattack heading back toward their net.

"We know they're great players and big-time players and they're going to try and come out with a better effort next game," Lucic said of the Penguins. "For us, we've just got to continue doing what we've done."

Why wouldn't they? It's worked marvelously well so far.

Quote of the Day

He's been one of our top players all year. Tonight he was by far our best player. There wasn't anybody in the same universe as him.

— Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz on goalie Braden Holtby, who made 33 saves to shut out the Edmonton Oilers 1-0
World Cup of Hockey 2016