Bruins

Krug steps up as Bruins stars go down

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Krug steps up as Bruins stars go down

The Bruins have managed to take three of a possible six points since Zdeno Chara went down in the third period of last week's comeback win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and they've done it completely without their top pairing since Charlie McAvoy has also been out all this time.

There are a number of factors behind the ability to withstand the injuries, of course, and the entire defense corps was stellar at both ends in the shutout win over Tampa Bay last weekend.

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But it's Torey Krug who's really stepped up his game. He had three assists and 15 shots on net in those three games, and was immense in the win over the Lightning.

Krug has surpassed the 50-point plateau for the second straight season, a major accomplishment for a defenseman who prides himself on his puck-moving and power-play work.

"You know, he has [stepped up]," coach Bruce Cassidy said of Krug, adding: "Torey is always going to get his numbers, but he's really added to it 5-on-5 . . . [It] was comforting to see that [without Chara and McAvoy] we shut out one of the best teams [in the NHL], at home, that was rested. You've got to take something out of that. It was one of 82 [games], but that was a real positive for our guys."

For Krug, the challenge of stepping up and being a leader in the team's time of need is the kind of thing he takes pride in responding to with an elevated level of play.

"I'm in the business of winning hockey games and helping my team win," said Krug. "It falls on my shoulders to produce some offense from the back end. And [when] we're missing a couple of guys from the back end that do that push the pace, then you've got to step up and make some plays. When you play with a lot of great players then you'll get your points, and you just need to worry about the defensive zone first.

"We're confident in everybody in this room. A lot of people think that the guys on our back end can't get the job done, so for us to step up [is a good thing]."

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The biggest sign of Krug's increased responsibility? He topped 26 minutes of ice time in two of the three games since Chara was injured. Only once before, when he was on the ice for 27-plus minutes against the Rangers in early November, has he played more than that.

The loss of Chara and McAvoy has forced Krug to go above and beyond his normal range of duties and he's stepped up and embraced it. That's what good players on good teams do, and it's something Krug has consistently done in the big moments since arriving in Boston five years ago.

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Bean: Leafs had their chance; now they're done

Bean: Leafs had their chance; now they're done

Even with the status of their best player in doubt, the Bruins will surely win their first-round series against the Leafs. It will probably happen Saturday. 

Such a thought would have been hard to believe heading into the series, but by now we've seen enough to know where things stand: Toronto's defense is exploitable and its stars aren't doing enough to make up for it. 

Consider Game 4. The Leafs outplayed the B's, who were sloppy and missing Patrice Bergeron, for much of the night. Still, all it took was one odd-man rush in a period that saw them spend the entire time in their zone to turn the tide. 

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The B's went the whole night without a power play. In fact, there was just one penalty the whole game. 

But that suited the Bruins, as they got even-strength goals from Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have just one even-strength goal combined this series from Auston Matthews, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk.

The question now becomes whether those guys will get going with elimination looming. Lord knows JVR can do it against the Bruins. But even if they do, they'll have to do it in a building that saw Boston score 12 goals over Games 1 and 2.  

While Toronto's stars continue to cool, Boston got a very welcome sight Thursday with David Krejci creating DeBrusk's goal. Krejci, who scored goals in Games 1 and 2, had a quiet showing in Game 3. With Bergeron's status up in the air, the Bruins could use a productive Krejci. 

The Leafs got back in the series when it shifted to Toronto for Game 3. There, Mike Babcock used last change to get Bergeron's line with Marchand and Pastrnak away from Matthews. The line of Tomas Plekanec between Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau not only quieted Boston's top line, but scored a pair of goals against it. 

That was not sustainable, as the Bergeron line (with Riley Nash skating in place of the injured Bergeron) scored twice against Plekanec and Co. while allowing one goal in Game 4. Now that the series is headed back to Boston, Marchand and Pastrnak likely won't face Plekanec in Game 5.  

The fact that the Bruins came back from Toronto up 3-1 means that they can put away the series when Babcock won't have last change, even though he'll have Nazem Kadri back. Kadri will be returning from a three-game suspension for being an idiot to Tommy Wingels' face. 

If Bergeron's injury is something he might play through later in the playoffs, the B's should roll the dice and put him in Saturday. Doing so could end the series and give Bergeron plenty of time to rest while teams wait for the second round to begin. 

Should Bergeron be unable to go, Bruce Cassidy should still be able to play matchups to his favor. Pastrnak and Marchand with Nash should still be capable of quieting Matthews' line while continuing to generate offense for Boston. Matthews does not defend nearly as well as Plekanec. 

The Leafs have a lot to figure out as they try to get Matthews and Nylander going. JVR's only contributions have come on the power play. It would be one hell of a switch to flip if those guys finally became their game-breaking selves. 

Game 4 was Toronto's chance. Saturday might bring its final chance. I wouldn't be too confident if I were a Leafs fan. 

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TALKING POINTS: Tuukka Rask leads Bruins to Game 4 victory

TALKING POINTS: Tuukka Rask leads Bruins to Game 4 victory

GOLD STAR: Got to give it to Tuukka Rask, who made 31 saves overall and stopped 21-of-22 shots in the first couple of periods while the Bruins were getting their footing after the news that Patrice Bergeron wasn’t going to play. He stoned Patrick Marleau on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush in the first period, unlike the ones he scored on twice in Game 3, and made another save on a breakaway in the second period just before the Bruins were able to break the tie. There were plenty of moments early in the game when the Bruins were hemmed in or having difficulty generating any kind of offensive possession, and Rask was their best player through all of it. We’ve often said that Rask has to prove it in big games, and this may prove to the biggest game of the first-round series against the Maple Leafs. Rask was at the top of the list for getting it done for the Black and Gold tonight.

BLACK EYE: The Leafs actually played a pretty good game all things considered, but if you need to pin some blame on somebody, then give it to William Nylander. He played on a top line that got outplayed by Riley Nash, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when it really mattered. Nylander only had one shot with most of his attempts coming from a good distance away from the net. He was a minus-2 and hasn’t really showed much of anything in the series to date. At least Auston Matthews was winning face-offs, generating offense and was a threat early in the game, but Nylander didn’t really do much to make himself noticeable in a gritty, hard-fought game that meant a ton to both teams. It’s indicative of a Leafs hockey club that probably needs to mature a little bit before they’re ready to truly make a deep run in the playoffs.

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was the Brad Marchand goal in the second period, but not because it was a really nice goal. It was because the Maple Leafs probably thought they had the Bruins right where they wanted them after a long shift with an icing and a defensive zone face-off, but instead, the B’s flipped the script on Toronto. They took advantage of a bunch of overeager kids on the ice, as Riley Nash won the draw and Adam McQuaid flipped the puck up the ice, turning it into a 2-on-1 with David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Pastrnak fed a no-look pass to Marchand for a shot at the vacated net, and the rest was history for the Black and Gold in a game they most definitely needed to win if they wanted to capture the series.

HONORABLE MENTION: Riley Nash didn’t end up on the score sheet, but give him all kinds of credit for stepping up and filling in at the last minute with Bergeron a last-minute scratch from the lineup. It was Nash that won the D-zone face-off after an icing call at the end of a long shift, and he worked the puck to Adam McQuaid for the stretch play that turned into the game-winning goal. In all, Nash played 19:10 of ice time, had a shot on net, a hit, a blocked shot and a giveaway while playing between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. He battled his way to 12-of-25 face-off wins. In actuality, Nash had half the wins in the face-off circle for the entire team and was exactly the kind of solid player Boston needed to step in and have a calming influence on that top line. They weren’t spectacular, but they made the plays when it mattered.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12-5-2 – the Bruins record this season when Patrice Bergeron is out of the lineup, which is a testament to their overall depth and how well Riley Nash has played in his place this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We tried to weather the storm and bring a storm of our own. We got the first goal tonight and that was a big thing. I think every team that’s scored first in the series has won.” –Jake DeBrusk, on the different ways the Bruins have combatted any home-ice advantage while they were in Toronto.

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