For four straight games, David Krejci had been skating on the right side. With Krejci’s skating and touch missing, Bruins coach Claude Julien figured the lifelong center might get a jolt playing on the wing. That way, given the stops and starts required, Krejci might reclaim the energy to his stride that had been missing for too long.
Last night against New Jersey, that four-game stint paid off in a big way.
Julien moved Krejci back to center. Tyler Seguin, paired with Patrice Bergeron for every match save one (his sitdown against Winnipeg Dec. 6) since Oct. 28, served as Krejci’s right-hand man.
The line struck for all four goals, including Krejci’s overtime winner, as the Bruins claimed a 4-3 win before 17,565 at TD Garden.
“I found my legs,’’ Krejci, who led the team with three goals, said of his four-game stint on Chris Kelly’s flank.
“On the wing, I had a little more space to skate. I tried to bring it to my role tonight when I was playing center.’’
The Bruins, like their previous versions, rely on Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, and Bergeron in that order.
They are models of consistency, players that Julien can rely on to bring a steady and often brilliant level of play in every game.
But Krejci is often the piece who ultimately favors in the Bruins’ success - or lack thereof. When Krejci isn’t skating with purpose and not playing with confidence, the Bruins are down to one offensive-minded center in Bergeron. But when Krejci is skating with purpose and making plays with swagger, he can turn his wingmen into dynamic goal-scoring threats.
Or he can just score on his own.
At 1:13 of the first, after a crisp cross-ice feed from Seguin, Krejci snapped a puck past Martin Brodeur to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
At 5:30 of the third, after a miserable second period, Krejci rapped a sharp-angle shot off Brodeur’s blocker and into the net. Krejci’s second goal tied the game at 3-3.
Then at 2:59 of overtime, Krejci fired a puck high glove on Brodeur to cap his hat trick and give the Bruins a two-point decision.
“He likes to thrive on big occasions,’’ Julien said. “No doubt, every playoffs he’s played in, he’s been a good player. Every year, at the end of the year, he’s been a good player.
“What I remember the most was my first year here when he was a rookie. We lost Patrice, then [Marc] Savard with a broken back. He came in and just took over. That was the last month when we were fighting for a playoff spot. He is known for those kinds of finishes. He’s starting to show us that he’s ready to do it again.’’
Krejci’s touch helped overcome a puzzling second period that was the opposite of the first. In the opening 20 minutes, the Bruins grabbed a 2-0 lead. The cushion would have been greater had Brodeur (21 saves) not made some show-stoppers, such as a kickout on Seguin or a sprawling glove save on Krejci.
All the energy of the first was gone in the second. A careless Joe Corvo turnover - the defenseman flung a blind backhand pass in the neutral zone - led to a two-on-one rush for Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. After Kovalchuk flipped a saucer pass over Dennis Seidenberg’s stick, Parise buried his shot at 6:27 of the second, making it a 2-1 game.
The Devils had the life they needed.
Later in the second, Steve Bernier cleanly beat Benoit Pouliot (Kelly had gotten tossed from the draw) on an offensive-zone faceoff. Thomas (28 saves) stopped Anton Volchenkov’s point shot. But Patrik Elias scored from the doorstep at 14:03 to tie the game at 2-2. The Devils completed their three-goal rally when David Clarkson walked the puck off the wall and jammed a shot under Thomas’s right arm at 17:46.
“I really liked our first period. We looked like the team we want to be,’’ Julien said. “That was nice to see. A lot of drive. A lot of intensity. Guys going to the net hard. Created some chances. Execution was good. For some reason in the second period, it just takes a couple soft shifts. Once we gave them that first goal, we just gave them life. They just came back at us.’’
Krejci answered with his second and third goals. On both strikes, Krejci got some help from Chara. The captain was a net-front presence on both occasions to disrupt New Jersey’s coverage.
But the hats that flew onto the Garden ice were for Krejci. The center logged 23:28 of ice time, the most he’s gotten all season. With three goals, five shots, and six faceoff wins to his name, Krejci picked the right time to submit perhaps his best game of 2011-12.
“It’s been kind of an up-and-down year for David,’’ Milan Lucic said. “It’s been frustrating for him at times. But it’s great to see him work through it.’’
The Bruins will take more of that.