Bruins F Horton practices ahead of Game 2
Milan Lucic remembers it as if it was yesterday.
Boston got Nathan Horton in a trade with Florida three years ago, and Bruins coach Claude Julien decided to put the forward on a line with David Krejci and Lucic.
"It kind of just clicked right away," Lucic said.
Yeah, no kidding.
The high-scoring line combined for Boston's first two goals in a 4-3 triple-overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday night. It was the continuation of a terrific postseason for the three veterans, who also helped the Bruins win the title two years ago.
Horton, who was sidelined for the last part of the 2011 postseason by a concussion, left the series opener against Chicago with an unspecified upper body injury, but he practiced Friday and appears to be on track to play in Game 2 on Saturday night.
"We'll have to make a decision on him tomorrow," Julien said. "It was encouraging to see him out there today. If he feels good tomorrow, he's in the lineup, simple as that."
If Horton is unable to play, Tyler Seguin likely would move up to the top line. He filled in for Horton after he left Game 1, and had a handful of prime chances to lift Boston to the victory.
Whether it's Horton or Seguin playing with Krejci and Lucic, the Blackhawks know they have to do a better job of defending that line.
"I think that's a line that has most of the offensive abilities that the good line should have," Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "They got a big body with Lucic and Horton is a pretty big guy, too, and Krejci's a good playmaker and good shot, too. So they're obviously one of the best lines in the league, if not the best.
"It's going to be a fun challenge to play against them again tomorrow and see how it goes."
Hjalmarsson was wrestling with Horton in front of the Chicago net during a Boston power play in the first overtime when the wing skated off with the injury. It appeared to be a serious problem at the time, since Horton decided at that pivotal moment that he was unable to continue.
But Horton managed to practice on the eve of Game 2 and didn't appear to be inhibited in any way. He was not made available to the media, but just his presence at practice seemed to provide a lift for the Bruins.
"It's great. He's a big part of this team and really missed him in the overtime after he went down," Krejci said. "So it's good to see him back on the ice."
Krejci and Horton each had an assist when Lucic beat Corey Crawford for the first goal of the series in the first period. Krejci set up Lucic in the second, and he fired it into the net for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Krejci leads the NHL with nine goals and 14 assists in the postseason. Horton has seven goals and 11 assists in the playoffs, and Lucic also has 11 assists.
"I just think we're going out there and having fun and we're moving the puck well," Lucic said. "We're shooting it when we get those opportunities. We're skating well. We're doing good things on the forecheck and the offensive zone, and also we've been able to play pretty sound defensively. That is kind of the transition into our success for our line."
The 27-year-old Krejci is the engine behind that success. The gifted center has a deft touch and a knack for creating opportunities for his teammates. He has at least 23 assists in each of the last five years, including a career-high 51 for the 2008-09 season.
Krejci also is a proven playoff performer. He had 12 goals and 11 assists during the 2011 title run. His considerable skill is a major reason why Julien isn't concerned about who plays alongside him in Game 2.
"He's a pretty smart player," Julien said. "He just wants players to move and he finds them. I don't think it's a big challenge for David. I don't think it's a big challenge for whoever plays with him. All you got to do is the right thing: get open and he'll find you."
When it comes to defending Boston's top line, Chicago wants to improve in a couple of different areas. A missed check by Hjalmarsson played a role in the first goal in the series opener, and Lucic was open again for his second score.
"We can be a little better," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "Obviously, they scored a couple goals off the rush there. The first one was kind of off a forecheck off the rush. But I think just being aware when those guys are out there, having good back pressure, and trying to keep the puck in their zone as much as we can when they're on the ice helps, too."
Many of the line's rushes led to action in front of Crawford, who finished with 51 saves. He also is planning on making his own adjustments for Game 2.
"They're a tough line to stop," Crawford said. "They're big. They're strong and they go to the net hard, but they make plays. Our guys, you know, just try to keep them on the outside as much as possible. For me, just be patient. Don't commit to anything too early, because they do find the open guy."