October 16, 2011

From NEHJ: 'David and the Goliaths' form one fine line for Bruins

By Jesse Connolly

Throughout its long history, the NHL has never been short on mesmerizing nicknames. From the “Great One” to the “Messiah” to the “Russian Rocket,” hockey’s greatest stars have earned themselves some of the most marvelous monikers. However, individuals alone aren’t the only ones to merit such a distinction. 

Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic -- celebrating a goal during the playoffs -- combine to form the Bruins' top line and potentially one of the club's greatest ever. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nathan Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic -- celebrating a goal during the playoffs -- combine to form the Bruins' top line and potentially one of the club's greatest ever. (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Bruins boasted the “Kraut Line” in the 1930s and ’40s, comprised of three German descendents in Woody Dumart, Milt Schmidt and Bobby Bauer. Francophone forwards Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert were dubbed the “French Connection” in Buffalo. The imposing combo of John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg aptly was named the “Legion of Doom” in Philly.

And while those trios may have earned such catchy tags due to their similar characteristics, they’ll be remembered for ages because of their accomplishments and downright dominance during their days as linemates.

After a memorable first year together that was filled with tremendous success as a unit and ended with a Stanley Cup championship, it might be time to start racking your brain and come up with a cool handle for the Bruins’ trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton.

“David and the Goliaths” sure has a nice ring to it.

Together, Krejci — the crafty center — and his two hulking wingers have the perfect blend of size, slickness, tenacity and talent to become one of the greatest lines in Bruins history, and it all starts with how well they complement one another on the ice.

“We do a good job off the rush and also breaking out in the defensive zone,” Lucic said, describing the line’s dynamic. “We’re always in support of one another, and I think that’s huge for us in getting things started. With me and Horton being strong wingers on each side, especially him with that great shot, we do a good job of getting in the offensive zone and playing with the puck. We do a good job of getting open for one another and we create opportunities like that.”

With Krejci serving as the skillful setup man, Lucic and Horton certainly made good on plenty of those opportunities last season, as the two combined for 56 goals during the regular season. Lucic established a career-high with 30 goals, a mark Krejci hopes he can help both of his linemates reach this season.

“I’d love to see him get 30 goals,” Krejci said of the 6-foot-2 Horton, who proved to be Mr. Clutch in the playoffs. “Obviously, it’s hard for two people on the same line to get 30 goals, but I want them to get close or crack 30. If I can help them to accomplish that, then I’ll be happy.”

Coming off of a sensational postseason that surely would’ve earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy were it not for the historic performance of Tim Thomas, Krejci hopes to build off of a playoff run that saw him rack up 12 goals — just one shy of his regular-season total of 13 — and a total of 23 points in just 25 games.

“I’m going to try to carry the momentum of what I had in the playoffs, and I’ll try to score some goals,” Krejci said. “I’m going to shoot a lot. I’m not going to pass up on any shots this year. It’s easy to say, but I’ve got to show it on the ice so we’ve just got to wait and see.”

For many, Krejci is perceived as the meekest member of the group. While Lucic and Horton use their girth to their advantage, ferociously throwing their weight around and dropping the gloves when they deem it necessary, their mild-mannered, soft-spoken center looks awfully reserved by comparison.

But behind closed doors, arguably no one inside the Bruins’ dressing room takes losing harder than Krejci, who is as harsh of a self-critic as any.

“I think he’s underrated in that sense because people consider him a quiet guy,” Lucic said. “He’s a big reason why we won. You don’t win with guys who aren’t competitive, so he’s definitely underrated when it comes to how competitive he is.”

One of the main reasons the three possess such cohesion on the ice is the strong bond they have built off of it. Over the course of a 107-game grind last season, the 25-year-old Czech center and his two Canadian wingers became a close bunch away from the rink.

“Surprisingly, we’re really tight,” Lucic said. “We hang out a lot. We go for dinners on the road and stuff like that. We’re always joking, and even on the plane, we’re playing games together and stuff like that. It’s great that we have it on the ice. It definitely helps when you get along and you can talk to each other, and there’s that friendship between us. I think that’s one thing that makes it so cool to be a part of the line.”

But perhaps what really brings them together is their common goal. Individual success is one thing, but winning is paramount.

“No. I don’t care about that,” Krejci said when asked about possibly making the All-Star team this season. “I am who I am, and whatever happens, happens. I’m going to be helpful for this team and carry this team to the playoffs, and in the playoffs you never know what’s going to happen. The All-Star Game is what it is. It’s nice to be there, but it’s also nice to have a break and get away from hockey for a little bit.”

Horton echoed those sentiments when asked if he’d set any personal goals for the upcoming year.

“I just want to keep getting better. I think that’s what everyone wants,” said Horton, who buried three game-winners in his first trip to the playoffs last season. “The big thing for me now, after actually getting a taste of the Stanley Cup, it’s all you’re thinking about. You want to get back and you want to get back to having fun and being in the playoffs. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. It’s quite the experience.”

Getting back there won’t be a cakewalk. In addition to the improvements many of their conference rivals have made, including a fellow member of the Northeast Division in the Buffalo Sabres, the defending champs know they have to be prepared to bring their ‘A’ game on a nightly basis.

Even though they all — in one form or another — had career years last season, the Bruins’ top line realizes they’ll have to be even better in 2011-12.

“It’s going to be a tough season this year, considering we’re the team to beat,” the 6-foot-3 Lucic said. “We’ve raised the bar for ourselves as a line. The challenge is maintaining that level of play.”

Whether they’re able to reel off a repeat remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: If general manager Peter Chiarelli can keep the three in the Hub of Hockey for the foreseeable future, the Bruins will be poised to remain Cup contenders for many years to come.

Lucic, who turned 23 this summer, is on the books until the summer of 2013, as is the 26-year-old Horton. Krejci, 25, will see his current deal expire at year’s end, but reports have indicated that the Bruins and his agent are working on an extension.

With youth on their side and the primes of their careers still around the corner, the sky appears to be the limit for these three young forwards. With miles and miles to go before they all reach the end of their NHL journeys, we may be witnessing the beginning of a magical run that could see the trio earn themselves a permanent place in Bruins lore as the greatest line in the team’s long, storied history.

“Well, that’d be great,” Lucic said as he grinned at the notion. “Obviously all three of us love it here. There’s nothing more that we would like than to keep playing with one another and hopefully we can stay a line as long as possible.”

If they get their wish and keep the good times rolling in the Hub of Hockey, another Cup or two might soon be in the cards. And should they pull off such a feat, whether it’s “David and the Goliaths” or something just as befitting, they’ll certainly deserve a legendary nickname.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal. He can be reached atjconnolly@hockeyjournal.com