The accepted wisdom is that there is no switch to flip, no easy way for a player to automatically lift his game and his production when the postseason comes. Accepted wisdom? Meet David Krejci, and the Bruins top line.
“He is proof that you can,” Milan Lucic said. “I mean, us as a line, we’re all proof that we can.”
It’s not that Krejci (or the line) has been a disappointment in the regular season, though there were struggles at times last season. But the center has been that much better in the postseason, that much more productive, as he raises his game from very good center to the best in the NHL.
In the two seasons the Bruins have gone to the Cup Final in the past three years, Krejci has increased his points per game from 0.83 to 0.92 in 2010-11 and from 0.70 to 1.18 in 2012-13. Lucic, too, rebounded from a subpar 0.59 points per game last season to record 0.86 in the playoffs.
“It’s a lot easier to get up for a playoff game than, let’s say, Game 55 in January,” Lucic said. “But, you know what, 2 points is 2 points at the end of the day, so you want to do whatever you can to create that consistency in your game to bring that high level of play night in, night out.
“Talking amongst each other, that was our main focus heading into this year, was to try to implement that high level of play in an 82-game schedule.”
So how do they make that happen?
“Maybe the bounces aren’t going to be there every game, but the one thing you can control is your effort,” Lucic said. “That’s one thing that we’re obviously going to have to put a lot of work into is our effort. If we take care of that, it always seems like everything else tends to take care of itself.”
Krejci did come up with a few other theories for the change in production: the familiarity of opponents, the scouting, the style of hockey. But, he acknowledged, “It’s a really tough question.”
“It’s a little different hockey,” he said. “You see the same team 4-7 times and I guess maybe when you make those little adjustments, maybe that helps our line and our team, as well. When you play in the regular season, you see one team one night, another [team]. It’s a little different.”
And while some of the credit goes to the coaching staff and scouting staff for pointing out the adjustments that need to be made, it’s on Krejci and his line to make those adjustments.
“Maybe that’s what helps our line,” Krejci said. “Maybe that’s why we are so good in the playoffs, because we’re smart players and we can adjust quickly. Maybe that’s why we’re successful. But it’s a tough question. I don’t have an answer for that.”
As the season starts, Krejci and Lucic are focused on things other than their playoff production. They have had to get used to a new linemate in Jarome Iginla — albeit one who slots pretty cleanly into the spot left by Nathan Horton — and Krejci is trying to bounce back from back spasms that he suffered last Friday in Saskatchewan.
The center said he will be a game-time decision for Thursday’s opener against the Lightning after the back spasms, which he hasn’t dealt with in six or seven years, knocked him out of practice for most of the week. He did return to the ice Wednesday at TD Garden.
“He just seems to play big in big games, which is great to have on your team,” Lucic said. “I saw him also have a [73-point] season here one year, so you know he can do it in the regular season as well.
“It’s not just him. I think it’s [that] all of us have to find that consistency in our game. That’s what the main goal is heading into this season.”
It was something that coach Claude Julien noted when announcing that Krejci had earned the alternate captain role vacated by Andrew Ference. As he said, “In the playoffs, he comes up big.”
With that “A” on his sweater, Krejci will be responsible for even more leadership on the ice and in the dressing room. So, too, will Lucic, despite wearing no letter. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt if the pair can transition seamlessly with Iginla, if they can get just a bit closer to the heights that they hit once the games matter the most.
“Hopefully we’re going to be as consistent as we can this season,” Krejci said. “We know it isn’t going to always be easy, but we have to count on each other. Sometimes a guy is going to have a tough time, but that’s why he’s got linemates, teammates to bring him back up. That’s what we have to do.”
Said Julien, “You have to play to your highest level, and that’s the expectation of the 20 players in the dressing room.”
And not just in the postseason. That highest level needs to be there every day, Game 1 or Game 55 or the Stanley Cup Final. So that’s the plan for the line — the hope — even if they’re not entirely sure how to make that happen.
“I think it’s more of a mental thing, an excitement thing,” Lucic said. “That’s the million-dollar question. I wish I had all the answers.”