CHICAGO — They started out nearly unstoppable in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a first line worthy of the designation. David Krejci seemed to score at will, with linemates Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic not far behind. Krejci raced to the top of the playoff points list.
And then the line was put on hold.
In the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final, the trio has combined to produce just one goal — Lucic getting a strike in Game 4. They were shut out in Games 2 and 3.
That has to change.
“I think we had some strong games in Chicago, but didn’t play like we wanted to the last two games at home,” Krejci said. “We just played so-so. But we have more to offer than we did the last two games. We’ll try to be better.”
The emergence of Daniel Paille and his third line (with Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin) took some of the burden off the top line. But Krejci’s line can’t disappear. That’s where the Bruins get most of their scoring, and that will become even more crucial as the series becomes a best-of-three starting Saturday night at the United Center.
“We have to be big,” Krejci said. “We have to be playing great. We have to be playing the way we know how to play. We also need the other lines to play our hockey.”
The team — first line included — needs to play Bruins hockey, Krejci said. That means not ending up in the kind of up-and-down goal-fest the teams played Wednesday night in Game 4. That doesn’t play to the strengths of the Bruins.
It doesn’t play to the strengths of the first line.
“Just play the game,” Krejci said, of what they need to do. “It’s not like we [stunk] or something last game. I felt we just played so-so. But so-so isn’t good enough.
“We have to skate hard, we have to hit, we have to pay attention to little details. And as far as our line goes, we have to take care of our defensive zone first, and go from there.”
It’s possible that the struggles of Krejci, Horton, and Lucic can be traced back to the first overtime of Game 1 of the series, when Horton skated off the ice clearly in pain. But he has been back since, and his linemates downplayed that factor.
“He’s still doing his thing,” Krejci said. “I don’t think we should talk about him. I think we should talk about us a line. Each of us, we have to help each other a little more. And maybe the last couple of games, we didn’t look like the line we would like to play in these Finals.
“But we know we can do it good. We know we can do it against Chicago. We did it the first couple of games here. So we’re ready to bounce back.”
The linemates acknowledge that the Blackhawks might have made some defensive changes in response to their play. But that doesn’t absolve them. They need to make some adjustments of their own.
“It’s tough to say,” Lucic said. “They’ve been playing us tight from Game 1. They’ve been keeping a good gap. As you can tell, they definitely try to take away your space in all areas, in all three zones. It really is hard to say.
“I think we have to definitely be better as a line. We’ve got to find a way to break through whatever kind of adjustments that they’ve made.”
So far in these playoffs, Krejci has amassed 24 points. Horton has 19, Lucic 17. They have been very good, with the exception of the past few games.
To get where the Bruins want to go, to ensure that the Cup will return to Boston for the second time in three years, they’ll have to get back to that very good performance. They’ll have to be the top line they know they can be.
“I certainly wouldn’t be the guy to complain about their performance so far,” coach Claude Julien said. “They’ve been pretty good. But at one point you get to the Final and everybody wants to give a little bit more.
“I think they’re no different. They’re a line that’s very proud of what they’ve accomplished in these playoffs so far and would like to finish on a good note.
“If we can get a little bit more from those guys, it would be a bonus.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin @globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.