Bruins' Krejci is a quiet playoff force
And it's not just because his unruly playoff beard resembles a disguise at this point.
The Czech forward doesn't mind that he hasn't attracted nearly the international attention he probably deserves heading into the Bruins' elimination game against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
Krejci has been a quietly dependable contributor for Boston for four seasons, maturing into a standout playmaker even before this breakout postseason. Yet he realizes he's still Plan B on the Bruins' top line, getting the spot after Marc Savard's concussions sidelined him.
Krejci says he still hears criticism despite his relative anonymity, and he realizes the Boston crowd can be tough after only a handful of unsuccessful shifts. But this playoff run has toughened up Krejci, who intends to keep improving next season - with or without a Cup.
''It hasn't been easy,'' Krejci said Monday after the Bruins' pregame skate. ''One day you're a hero, then the next day you shouldn't be on the power play.''
Krejci has 11 goals and 11 assists in 23 postseason games heading into Game 6 at the Garden, where the Bruins will attempt to send the series to a decisive seventh game in Vancouver on Wednesday. Although his power-play production is down, he is the Bruins' leading goal-scorer in the playoffs, including four game-winners.
''I guess I'm more of a shooter now,'' said a grinning Krejci, who has never scored more than 22 goals in a regular season. ''This year I've been better 5-on-5 (than on the power play), but I don't need to come out and make a play. I don't care if the power play is good or not. We're in the final, and that's all that matters.''
Krejci has one goal and four assists in the first five games of the finals, steadily maintaining his playmaking pace after a slow first round - and he's even doing it without Nathan Horton.
Krejci had the luxury of spending almost the entire season centering Milan Lucic and Horton, an oasis of continuity in a sport with ever-changing combinations. Krejci's soft hands and pinpoint passing skills are an ideal complement to Lucic and Horton, two hard-nosed wings who enjoy driving the net - but Horton was sidelined for the series with a concussion early in Game 3.
Krejci scored four points in the ensuing two games to help Boston even the finals.
Yet Krejci just doesn't attract attention despite his easygoing demeanor and impressive skills, which include faceoff proficiency.
Oh, he made headlines early last season - when he caught a case of swine flu.
When the Bruins traveled to Prague to start this season with two overseas games against the Coyotes, Phoenix's Radim Vrbata and Petr Prucha - even Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who's from nearby Slovakia - got a whole lot more attention than Krejci.
Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who played with Krejci on the Czech national team at the Vancouver Olympics, describes the center as reserved and shy.
''He's not a flashy guy, but he's very strong and skilled, just an all-around good player,'' Kaberle said. ''He doesn't have the biggest name, but he's going to have it before too long.''
After three straight 50-point seasons, Krejci has become indispensable to the Bruins during their run to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1990. He has ramped up his production in Savard's prolonged absences over the past two years, starting late last season when Savard was brutally hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke.
Perhaps his skills are most noticeable when he's absent: After Krejci dislocated his right wrist last spring during Game 3 in the second round against Philadelphia, Boston fell apart, losing four straight after taking a 3-0 series lead.
Krejci is the high scorer on a team with no scorers in the NHL's top 25 and a struggling power play - and Boston coach Claude Julien can't imagine where it might be without Krejci.
''Krejci can make some plays down low, take the puck to the net,'' Julien said. ''We think that's a good situation.''
He had a hat trick in Boston's Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, and Krejci made the slick setup pass on Horton's game-winning goal in Boston's 1-0 victory in Game 7.
The finals have been a challenge despite his point-a-game pace, largely because of Horton's absence. Rich Peverley filled Horton's role well in Game 4, scoring two goals in the Bruins' rout - including a breakaway created by a slick pass from Krejci.
The top line never found a rhythm in Game 5, and Julien employed several players on Krejci's line, forcing the center to adapt once again.
''Me and Looch have basically played every time with a different guy, and it's hard to get the chemistry going,'' Krejci said. ''We're just going to keep working, keep trying to get a win.''