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We might not have the best players in the world…But we might have the best team in the world.
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BOSTON, MA - Torey Krug was carrying the puck up ice from the Bruins’ zone five minutes into the second period, when all of a sudden, a new chant from the Boston faithful rained down.
It was brief and low, but resonated throughout the building. ‘Maybe that was a “Looooooch” chant,’ I thought. After all, Milan Lucic was out on the ice with his linemates, and it was a familiar cheer within the walls of TD Garden.
But then it happened again, and again, and again…all the way up until Krug was standing near the bench for an interview in front of the crowd, following the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the New York Rangers that sent them into the Eastern Conference Finals for a date with Pittsburgh.
Just over a minute prior to the first chant, the defenseman had lasered home his fourth goal of the postseason - his third on the power play - in just his fifth NHL playoff game. It’s the most by a Boston rookie defenseman since 1988.
The Bruins were down 1-0 early in the second period, when Tyler Seguin drew a hooking penalty. Over a minute into the power play, Brad Marchand skated the puck into the zone, controlled along the boards and fed the puck up to Seguin at the left point. The 21-year-old immediately sent a cross-ice pass to the 22-year-old Krug dancing through the right faceoff circle.
The one-timer blasted right past Henrik Lundqvist’s glove at 3:48 into the middle frame. It evened it up at 1-1, Krug threw his arms back and screamed, Seidenberg skated over with a smile, the power play unit converged, the Garden erupted.
"It’s a great feeling," said Krug, all smiles in the locker room postgame. "I’m glad we closed it out tonight in front of a great crowd. It was so loud in there I could barely hear myself think sometimes. It was a great experience."
I asked the defenseman after the game if he had heard the chants; with in-game mode turned on, he had tried to block everything else out except for his shifts (that, or he was too humble to admit it), but when we were about to start the interview near the bench, with fans waving their gold rally towels, he heard nothing but “Kruuuuuuug” raining down.
"He’s shown what he’s all about. We said ‘ice in his veins’ and that’s what he’s got," Bruins’ Head Coach Claude Julien said following the series-clinching win.
"You definitely have to balance that. Every game I’ve been able to take a step back before the National Anthem, look around, close my eyes, think about everything for a second, understand how special this is," said Krug, on taking in his first Stanley Cup playoff experience this series.
"With that, I just go out there and play my game and just try to contribute to the team in any way possible. Every game, I seem to find a way to."
"You always hope that guys can come in and help your team out," said Julien.
"There’s no doubt he was magic for us in this series. To score that many goals and show the confidence that he showed playing in this series is pretty outstanding."
It hasn’t just been Coach Julien’s comments to the media; the coach and his staff have shown confidence in Krug by upping his work load since Game One of the series, in which he scored his first NHL goal and was a revelation on the power play.
"It’s a good feeling out there, and the more the coaching staff puts me out on the ice, the better I feel," said the rookie blueliner. "It’s a great feeling when your teammates are coming up to you, patting you on the back - and all the credit in the world to everyone."
His teammates weren’t just patting him on the back. They were giving him plenty of praise postgame as well.
"Well, at first it’s like, ‘oh, another one for Kruger?!’," said Milan Lucic, who had his own power of a game, despite not showing up on the scoresheet. He steam-rolled a team-high six hits on the Rangers.
"But I think that’s when kind of everything got started for us and when you see a guy like him whose able to step in and play the way that he did in the series, I think it definitely lifts you up and makes you play harder because you see how hard he played and you try to thrive off that and you remember the feeling when you were that young and playing as a rookie in the playoffs."
Krug’s power-play tally knotted the game at 1-1, setting up Gregory Campbell for the game-winner just under 10 minutes later, at 13:42 into the second.
The Merlot Line crafted its own storyline throughout the series, netting four goals and two of the four game-winning goals to showcase the Bruins’ four-line rollout. But it was also the defensemen chipping into the offense, firing home seven goals and four off the stick of Krug.
"Those kids have stepped in, especially Freddy [Torey Krug], he played unbelievable, not even just the points. I’ve said it before, all the little plays he made, carrying the puck, having poise, having patience with it, making the smart plays, holding the blueline in the offensive zone and he played hard too," said Merlot Liner Shawn Thornton, who nearly had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in the victory.
"He’s not that big of a defensemen, but he plays a lot bigger than he is."
"Any goal is huge, but that goal especially because, like I said, we were kind of in a lull in a little bit at one point during the game, and then we get that big goal to boost us up, and we go from there," said Krug’s fellow blueline "kid," Matt Bartkowski, who fell into a groove alongside Johnny Boychuk throughout the series.
"I think that’s probably the biggest storyline of the series is how they were able to step up and you see Kruger [Torey Krug] stepping up with four goals in a series, that’s huge," said Lucic, of Krug and the young defensemen stepping in when Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden were all sidelined before Game One against New York.
"It’s unbelievable, the poise he has with the puck," said Seidenberg of Krug. The veteran defenseman made his entrance back into the lineup in Game Five, alongside Zdeno Chara, after being out with injury since his first shift of Game Seven against Toronto.
"He’s got great skating legs and he jumps into the open areas. And you saw those one-timers he had the last couple of games. They’re very nice shots. They’re perfect shots. It’s nice to see a guy like Torey to play so well."
Even Rangers’ Head Coach John Tortorella showed his surprise at Krug’s emergence into the series.
"It’s funny how it works, huh? You get worried about this, that, and the other thing, and especially the kid there, [Torey] Krug, they got a lot of offense from their back end," said Tortorella, of facing a Bruins’ team that had been "depleted" on the back end, forcing the rookies to step in.
"That was another difference in our series, getting offense from the back end, and he led the way."
Krug certainly made an impact, and probably not to the surprise of the Bruins’ organization, who sought after the undrafted free agent following his four years at Michigan State University last spring.
"I decided to come here because I wanted to win. They expect to win the Stanley Cup every year, and that’s my mentality. I just want to win," said Krug. "Also, I knew I was going to make it to the NHL. There wasn’t going to be anyone that’s going to get in my way. It was just my mentality, so I’m glad I was able to come to an organization that has the winning ways that we do."
You can see I came really close, but didn’t want to give up. Just tried to go to the point, Soupy ended up being there. And it was funny how this worked out - I saw it in the air, thinking it was going to go in but I was just still trying to go to the net as quick as I could.
This is playoffs. You’ve got to do whatever it takes.