TORONTO — The message after 60 minutes, repeated over and over in the visiting dressing room, was to take the shot that was available.
So when David Krejci busted loose for an odd-man rush in Wednesday’s overtime at the Air Canada Centre, Milan Lucic did his job by driving to the net and opening himself up for a pass. But Lucic wanted Krejci to take the shot.
That he did.
At 13:06 of overtime, Krejci hammered an exclamation point on the night by beating James Reimer for his third goal to give the Bruins a 4-3 win in Game 4. The Bruins have a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5 on Friday night at TD Garden.
“I’m happy he didn’t pass it to me, kept it himself, and put it over the goalie,” Lucic said.
It was Krejci’s second career hat trick. His first came during the Stanley Cup run, when he scored three against Tampa Bay on May 25, 2011.
That previous three-goal explosion, however, came in a loss. It didn’t much matter Krejci scored three because the Bruins lost Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Lightning, 5-4.
Krejci’s latest hat trick put the plucky Leafs on the brink of making their tee times. The Bruins are 15-2 all time in a series when ahead 3-1.
They will be playing in front of their home crowd. They will wield confident sticks. They will be hungry to close out the first round Friday instead of returning to Toronto for Game 6 Sunday.
“Obviously, we feel pretty good right now,” Krejci said. “But we know we have to take it one game at a time. In the playoffs, there’s no room to look at what happened in past games. The next game, it starts at 0-0. We’re going to have to bring our A-game and be even better than we were today.”
The primary assist on Krejci’s hat-trick goal went to Nathan Horton. In the defensive zone, Horton got his stick on the puck to chip it ahead to Krejci. An instant after Horton tapped the puck off the boards, Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf sent the right wing spinning with an open-ice hit. Horton was slow to get up, but he left the ice without assistance.
In retrospect, Phaneuf should have been credited with an assist, too.
Because Toronto’s captain went for the head-shaking thump, he launched himself out of position. By the time Krejci had the puck to start the rush, Phaneuf was out of the picture. The only Maple Leaf back was Ryan O’Byrne, who had to fend off Krejci and prevent the cross-ice pass to Lucic.
Krejci is now the leading scorer in the playoffs with five goals and five assists for 10 points. Two years ago, Krejci was the postseason scoring champ with 12 goals and 11 assists.
Krejci is usually the disher for Lucic and Horton. But Krejci is not afraid to shoot . Especially in the playoffs.
“I’ve seen it for six years now,” Lucic said of Krejci’s offensive wizardry. “It’s pretty amazing in my eyes that it’s gone overlooked for as long as it has. He’s a big-time player. He’s got a lot of confidence. He’s got a real good skill set. He’s showing it definitely in this series.”
Skilled forwards like Krejci usually rack up their points with assists, dangles, and snap shots. Krejci flashed the good stuff in the second period with his second goal, a power-play strike.
With Colton Orr in the box for elbowing Zdeno Chara, the Bruins netted their second power-play goal of the period. Horton slipped a cross-ice pass to Krejci at the left circle. Before Reimer (41 saves) could slide from left to right to stop the shot, Krejci fired an off-wing one-timer over the goalie. It was the kind of goal that top-line centers score.
But earlier in the second, Krejci strapped on his hard hat to score his first goal. Brad Marchand put a shot on goal that Reimer couldn’t handle cleanly. With the rebound up for grabs, Krejci broke for the net, dumped Mikhail Grabovski from behind, and jammed the puck in at 12:59. It was a big-boy goal, and tied the game at 2-2.
The Bruins needed every goal in the second to erase a two-goal deficit. Patrice Bergeron started the rally with a power-play goal at 0:32. Krejci’s first two goals gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead. But just 44 seconds after Krejci put the Bruins ahead, Clarke MacArthur tied the game at 3-3.
The Leafs were rolling in overtime. They put 11 pucks on Tuukka Rask. He turned them all back. Rask’s sharpness set up Krejci to do what he does. Which, in his teammates’ eyes, is anything he pleases.
“When he’s on, he’s on,” Rask said. “He does whatever he wants. He makes plays and scores goals. We’ll be happy with that.”