-- David Krejci
's value to the Boston Bruins
unfortunately has been measured in situations the team would have preferred not to deal with. The first instance came last May, when Krejci went down with a season-ending injury. The second came this past January, when Marc Savard
suffered another concussion.
The former was a dagger the Bruins never could pull out of the spoked B on their sweater. The latter explains why.
Krejci is the Bruins' water bug center, and outside of goaltender Tim Thomas
, he's arguably their most important player.
After Krejci dislocated his wrist last spring, the Bruins made history by blowing a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia in the conference semifinals. However, they haven't missed a beat since Savard went down Jan. 22 because Krejci immediately picked up the slack and re-established himself as a top center in the NHL, bringing power forwards Milan Lucic
and Nathan Horton
along for the ride.
"He's elevated his play, there's no doubt," Bruins coach Claude Julien
said. "He's become a better player in the second half of the season. We're seeing more of the David Krejci
that we know."
The 6-foot, 177-pound Czech center serves as the pivot between Lucic and Horton, who each have several inches and more than 50 pounds on Krejci. With Krejci as the driving force, they make up one of the more underappreciated yet important lines in the NHL today.
Krejci helped turn Lucic into a 30-goal scorer this season while also getting the best out of Horton in the second half. Horton finished the season with 26 goals in 80 games after scoring only 12 goals in 45 games before Savard's injury.
"I've had a lot of fun playing with Krech and Horty," Lucic told the Boston Globe. "There have been times with Bergy (Patrice Bergeron
) and also times with Savvy (Savard), but just the chemistry that we've been able to create I think has been able to help my game a lot."
Krejci put the onus on himself to pull his game up when Savard went down, and despite a slow start made worse by a mild concussion that kept him out for six games in November, he finished the regular season tied with Lucic for the team scoring lead with 62 points.
"You know there is pressure," Krejci told NHL.com. "Maybe people don't talk about it that much, but I know there is pressure and I put pressure on myself, too. When (Savard) went down, people needed to step up and I felt now I'm playing first-line center so I should be the guy who is playing the best hockey."
Julien said Krejci wasn't skating well at the start of the season and it was limiting his playmaking.
"He was trying to make those plays, but when you don't use your speed it's pretty hard to make those plays in this League," Julien said. "His skating has gotten better and his intensity has gotten better, and because of that he's making those plays."
Now because he's skating, Krejci, Horton and Lucic are making plays and scoring goals off the rush as much as they do from in front of the net.
"I played in the past with many different types of players -- skill players, shooters -- and now I have two big bodies and both of them can put the puck in the net," Krejci said. "Down low they create so much room for me, try to get the puck in my hands and they try to get open. I try to find them back and they both have a great shot, so most of the time when I give them the puck it's in the net or pretty close."
"If you can use your speed along the wing David will find you and he'll make the plays," said Julien. "You've seen them score some goals right from the rush, coming in with pretty good speed and some net drive."
It's difficult to imagine where the Bruins would be without Krejci.
"I don't think he gets the attention he deserves but he's definitely appreciated on this team," Bruins center Gregory Campbell
told NHL.com. "I just think he's overshadowed. He's got tremendous hands, tremendous vision. His patience is second to none. He's the guy that makes that line go."
Campbell said the Bruins' coaching staff rides Krejci harder than the other centers because of how important he and his linemates are to the team's overall offensive rhythm and success.
"I know the coaching staff is hard on him, but it's only because as he goes his line goes and his team goes," Campbell said. "As you saw in the playoffs last year, when he went down it was not a good thing for this team."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl