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TORONTO -- As hockey fans were emptying out of the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night following the Boston Bruins' thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the public address announcer virtually guaranteed the Leafs would stave off elimination in Game 5 Friday in Boston and "will" return for Game 6 here on Sunday.
The Bruins hope that's not the case.
After David Krejci scored the game-winning goal at 13:06 of overtime, the Bruins held a 3-1 series lead, but Boston knows it still needs one more win in order to advance.
|David Krejci has five goals, including the Game 4 winner in overtime, and five assists in the first four games against the Leafs.|
"We talked about it that it was crucial to get a win because we knew they were a desperate team, but we're a desperate team as well," Krejci said. "It's a big difference going home with a 3-1 lead than a tied series 2-2. It was a big one tonight, but we know the last step is the hardest."
Krejci solidified his status as a top performer in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In four games against the Maple Leafs in this series, he has five goals and five assists for 10 points.
"His line has been good throughout this whole series, but David tonight was certainly the guy shining," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's been a real good playoff performer for years for us. There are certain players who just thrive on playoff hockey and he's one of those guys. We know he's a great playmaker, a skilled player, but the other part too is he doesn't shy away from traffic or a physical game.
"He's very gritty when he needs to be gritty. If he's got one weakness it's that he's very hard on himself at times when things aren't going well. When you see him play like that, I'm not sure you want to call it a weakness because when he does find his game he's a pretty dominant player."
Speaking of dominance, the Bruins play that way in overtime in the postseason.
Since the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Bruins are 7-3 in overtime games. In 2011, Boston won three OT games in the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, one against the Philadelphia Flyers in a second-round sweep, but lost one in the Cup finals to the Vancouver Canucks. In 2012, the Bruins won two and lost two in the quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals.
On Wednesday, the Bruins played to win and even talked in the locker room before the overtime period about how important a victory in Game 4 would be, especially in this environment.
"We have to give them a lot of credit because they played a great game," Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron said. "It was about staying composed, staying to our system. They had some good looks and Tuukka [Rask] made some huge saves for us and we were able to capitalize. It's all about finding a way in the playoffs and we did."
On Boston's winning goal, Bruins forward Nathan Horton was able to get the puck past Toronto's pinch with a chip off the wall in the defensive zone to create a two-on-one break for Krejci and Milan Lucic, but was on the receiving end of a hit that left him a bit banged up.
"If it wasn't for Horty, he took the hit to make the play and other guys played a big part on the goal," the always humble Krejci said. "Looch was driving the net and I was looking the whole way to make a pass, then I heard [Zdeno Chara] behind me, so I didn't have many options because they took them away. I got left with a shot and luckily it went in."
Afterward, Lucic was happy Krejci took the shot and didn't pass.
"We talked about it before overtime, I think every team talks about it before overtime, not to pass up on shots," Lucic said. "I was driving the net and I'm happy he didn't pass it to me and he kept it himself and put it over the goal line."
Entering the playoffs, there was some concern as to whether Boston's top line would be able to recreate its offensive explosion from 2011, but so far Lucic, Krejci and Horton have delivered. That trio has a combined 22 points in the first four games.
"[Krejci] stepped up and played a great game," Lucic said. "He's definitely been the best player in this series in the first four games. As a line, we're playing with a lot of confidence and having a lot of fun again. We worked so hard in that second period to get us back in the game and it was awesome to see that puck go in in overtime for us."
It was Krejci's second career playoff overtime goal as well as his second career playoff hat trick. His other came on May 25, 2011 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals. It was his third multipoint game of the series.
"I'm just trying to do my best, go out there and play as hard as I can and try to help the team win the game. That's all," Krejci said.
Overall, in 63 career playoff games, Krejci has 25 goals and 32 assists for 57 points, including a plus-26 rating. Those are some sick numbers and his teammates know it.
"I've seen it for six years now," Lucic said. "It's pretty amazing in my eyes that it's gone overlooked as long as it has. He's a big-time player. He's got a lot of confidence and he's got a real good skill set and he's definitely showing it in this series."
Lucic was asked by a Canadian reporter if Krejci's talents are underrated.
"He may be underrated to you guys, but he's not underrated in this dressing room, especially for me because I've had an opportunity to play with him for the last four years and I've had a lot of fun along the way," Lucic said
From the other end of the ice, Rask, who finished with another 45-save performance, came up with timely saves again and again. When Krejci's winning goal went in, Rask skated to join the celebration.
"I didn't even realize he scored a hat trick -- wow," Rask said. "As I've said the past few games, when he's on, he's on and does whatever he wants. He makes the right plays and scores goals, and today was a pretty good example of that."
The Bruins ship back to Boston with a franchise mark of 15-2 in seven-game series in which they held a 3-1 lead. When they arrived in Toronto with this series even at a game apiece, the Bruins hoped for a pair of wins at ACC, but would have settled for one.
"It's better than 2-2, obviously," Rask said. "We wanted to come here and play two good games, and at least win one, but we got two so it helps. The last one is always the toughest one to get and we can't change a thing. We have to keep plugging away."
Boston is in control of this series and Krejci is leading the way -- again.