BOSTON – It seems like ever since the Boston Bruins lost right wing Nathan Horton to a concussion Jan. 22, they've been searching for his replacement on their first line.
While they've been lacking for offense, they've also been slogging along with a record around .500 ever since that day in Philadelphia.
Maybe coach Claude Julien, whose team doesn't know when Horton will be back, has finally found a winning combination.
For the first time this season he grouped Tyler Seguin with center David Krejci and left winger Milan Lucic Thursday night. The new trio combined for seven points and Krejci capped his hat trick with the game-winner in overtime as the Bruins topped New Jersey 4-3 at TD Garden on Thursday night.
Krejci, who scored just two goals in the entire month of February, opened the scoring 1:13 into the game. He tied the game in the third period and buried his third – to cap his second career NHL hat trick – with 2:01 remaining in the extra period.
"I was a little lucky on that one, I guess," Krejci said about the winning goal. "I was at the end of my shift, I was just tired and [Patrice Bergeron] made a good play. I kind of sensed that he was going throw it to the front of the net and [Zdeno Chara] tried to jam and it was the right time, right place. I saw [Martin] Brodeur was down and just tried to go upstairs and it worked that time."
The chemistry between Krejci, Lucic and Seguin produced right off the bat. Seguin sped down the right wing and set up Krejci for that early goal from the slot. Seguin then snapped a 10-game goal drought by firing a wrister off a defender's stick past Brodeur (21 saves) 8:10 into the game after Lucic barreled down the left wing and passed the puck back.
Krejci also notched the tying goal 5:30 into the third period after a scramble in front led by Lucic.
Seguin has skated almost all season, including every game but one since Oct. 29, on Bergeron's right side. He didn't know about the line change until he got to the rink for the game and saw it up on the board. But he didn't find it difficult to fit in with Krejci and Lucic, who have been playing together for more than a year.
"I mean, you watch the other lines so many times every game, right," Seguin said. "So you kind of get a feeling of what's going on and an example on my goal, I saw Looch with the puck going wide, and there's not too many guys that can even really catch him or take him down, so I just try to stay high and wait for the puck. And that's just kind of an example of watching players and just learning from a unit even if you're not playing with them, then bringing it to your game when you do play with them."
The efforts of Boston's nearly formed first line nearly went to waste after they took their 2-0 lead into the second period. The Devils erupted for three goals, starting with Zach Parise's score at 6:27 on a 2-on-1 after a turnover by Joe Corvo in the neutral zone.
Patrik Elias provided the tying goal from in front of the net with a backhand flip at 14:03. David Clarkson capped New Jersey's scoring at 17:46 when his wraparound went off Tim Thomas' back and into the goal.
"We just started playing harder. We tightened up the defense – that was a big thing," Devils center Adam Henrique said about the difference between the first and second periods. "We were still getting a couple of chances in the first but we were giving up everything defensively. We weren't picking up our guy. We were off on our assignments. That was probably the difference of the game."
New Jersey had to settle for just one point in the standings after Krejci tied the game in the third period and then won it in overtime. The Devils have lost four in a row and were swept in the four-game season series by the Bruins, a team they could meet in the playoffs.
"Today is, I think, the only positive thing we could take about the series," Brodeur said. "I thought we played decent after a tough start, but you know, playoffs are playoffs. I think these guys [the Bruins], they know with the experience they got the past few years and especially last year, that it's a new ballgame when it starts. Hopefully we'll get in and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to play against them because if we do it means we're going to be in a good spot."
Boston hasn't won two in a row since Jan. 10 and 12. That's why the Bruins were attempting to stay even-keeled after their dramatic win. Krejci wants to see his line, and the entire squad, duplicate the positives from this win on Saturday against the New York Islanders.
"It would be nice to win two in a row," Krejci said. "We've kind of been battling one win, one loss in the past month. So we've got to get comfortable here in the room and try to get on a roll. This is very important time of the season and we've got to get in great shape before the playoffs come."