ST. LOUIS — The last time Jordan Binnington stared down Torey Krug, the Bruins’ diminutive defenseman had just delivered the hit heard ’round the Stanley Cup, a daring, helmetless blast to Robert Thomas that electrified Game 1 of this Stanley Cup Final. Binnington, wanting no part of seeing that moment become the iconic image of this championship series, took to next-day verbal warfare to suggest Krug might have been fueled by something other than playoff hockey, using a description of Krug’s dilated pupils as evidence he might be “on something.”
“He was pretty fired up,” Binnington said.
But after another one-on-one encounter with Krug Saturday night, Binnington didn’t even get the chance to fight back, verbally or otherwise. As soon as Krug’s heavy slapshot bounced off him and into the back of the net for the Bruins’ fifth goal of the game, the rookie goaltender was done staring down Krug, or any other Bruins for that matter, pulled in favor of backup Jake Allen with 7:48 to go in the second period.
Advantage Krug, the small man with the huge heart, the 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound package of pure toughness who is quickly, if not so quietly, emerging as the folk hero of the series. The box score tells you this one was a laugher, but if a 7-2 final left the Blues wondering what in the name of physical hockey had just run over them, here’s a hint: Krug was the one driving the bus. That thing coach Bruce Cassidy said during the pre-Cup vacation about Krug being underappreciated? Might need a little editing now.
“I said it in the sense that he’s an offensive defenseman, and offensive specialist, and people don’t realize how hard he is,” Cassidy said. “He does play big minutes now with [Brandon] Carlo. . . . Torey’s stepped up. He wanted that responsibility, to be a second pair type guy behind Zee [Zdeno Chara]. He’s met the challenge.”
With one goal, which came on a power play that was a ridiculous four for four (on four shots), as well as three assists Saturday, Krug continues to power the Bruins in ways that win games, his 4 points the most ever by a Bruin in a Stanley Cup Final game. In case you missed that the first time, that’s the most ever by a Bruin in a Stanley Cup Final game, more than Bobby Orr, more than Ray Bourque, more than anyone.
He put one 5-on-4 shot so perfectly into traffic in front of Binnington’s goal that top-liner Patrice Bergeron tipped it in with ease, and put another man-advantage puck so perfectly on the stick of David Pastrnak that Bergeron’s similarly dormant fellow top-liner was able to use all of his beautiful skating prowess to make a deft move with his back to the net and score. A third assist, for good measure, came as the Bruins piled on in the final minutes of the game, helping Marcus Johannson pot the final one of the night.
“He was great, making plays happen, getting the puck out, skating, really seeing the forwards open and finding ways to get the puck to us,” Bergeron said, “then on the power play making some tremendous plays to find us. He’s been huge for us all year, and again he showed up in a big moment.”
When Krug channeled his anger last Wednesday, so annoyed over the way David Perron mugged him in front of his own net that he flew down the ice to take it out on Thomas, he didn’t just put a bullseye on his own sweater. He put out a call to all the Blues, who were intent on proving they belonged among the most physical teams in the league this year and had emerged as the unquestionably heaviest team to barrel through these playoffs. But it was teammate Matt Grzelcyk who paid the price in Game 2, on the wrong end of such a vicious Oskar Sundqvist hit that he was forced to the hospital and into concussion protocol while Sundqvist was suspended for this ensuing game.
What better way to pay back a friend than to play your best in his honor, to feed three different teammates for goals while notching one of your own, to help your team withstand an opening five-minute deluge and answer it with a flood of scoring?
“Depth has been a strength of this team for a long time,” Krug said. “Different lineups, linemates, we’ve been able to work through it time and time again. Now another, and give [John] Moore credit tonight, stepping in and filling a void, obviously missing a great player like Grizzy . . . that’s what your team needs to win at this time of year.”
What they need is guys like Krug, who don’t need a whole lot of words to say an awful lot, who burn the fuel of the doubters they’ve faced their entire undersized athletic careers and pour it directly into their effort on the ice, who brush off bizarre accusations like Binnington’s and stay securely in the in-house bubble.
“I’m not on social media right now so I don’t see it, though we have a great PR staff that makes you aware,” Krug said, suppressing a smile. “Just keep your head down and go to work. Myself and Brandon Carlo, that’s been our motto for a long time now, and it doesn’t matter what’s going on around us, doesn’t matter what the matchups are, doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Head down and go to work. That’s what I’m feeling now.”
Guys like Krug, who hear their names put up alongside Orr and answer with nothing but humble respect.
“I’d say probably ask me again in a week or so when you can look back and take it all in,” he said. “Bobby Orr is probably the greatest influencer in the game of hockey itself, so you really can’t compare yourself in any way shape or form. Ask me again in a couple of weeks.”
Where might the Bruins be then?