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Lucic, Bruins hoping for a shift in fortunes

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 23, 2011

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In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning in Tampa on Saturday, the Bruins’ Milan Lucic submitted a nightmare shift at the worst time. With the score tied at 3 in the third period, a series of Lucic errors snowballed and resulted in Simon Gagne’s winning goal.

When Gagne entered the right corner to track the rebound of a Teddy Purcell shot, Lucic went after him, which resulted in a slack defensive formation instead of the pack-it-in setup required on such plays.

So when the rebound of Gagne’s shot skittered out to Victor Hedman, Lucic wasn’t in place to fill the lane and get in front of the defenseman. Instead, Hedman’s blast rocketed off Tomas Kaberle’s left leg.

“With Hedman having that chance, as a winger, you have to stop in my position,’’ Lucic said yesterday. “I didn’t do that.’’

It was only Lucic’s first mistake. After the puck caromed off Kaberle, Lucic settled it and started the breakout. He saw Nathan Horton and David Krejci open in the neutral zone. But Lucic never spotted Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone, who picked off the left wing’s pass and broke the other way.

Lucic capped off the shift from hell with a final mistake.

Dennis Seidenberg was playing Malone one-on-one and was ready to steer him to the outside. But Lucic, angry with himself for his bad pass, chased Malone instead of going to the front of the net. So when Malone’s shot deflected off Seidenberg’s stick and landed on Gagne’s blade, Lucic was nowhere in sight to help out. It was only a formality that Gagne buried his shot at 6:54 to make it 4-3, and the Lightning tacked on an empty-netter for a 5-3 triumph, tying the series at two games apiece.

“I saw two guys open in the neutral zone there. I didn’t see Malone,’’ Lucic said of his giveaway. “Obviously, it was costly. It was like I was trying too hard to make up for my mistake. If I would have just stopped in front in my position, I wouldn’t have left a two-on-one right in front of the net. Mistakes happen. Games are won and lost on little mistakes like that. I don’t want to think too much about it. I just want to be ready to play going into the next game so the same thing doesn’t happen.’’

When the Bruins convened at TD Garden yesterday for a video session in anticipation of tonight’s Game 5, Lucic and fellow first-liners Krejci and Horton didn’t see much they liked. In Game 3, Lucic and Krejci clicked early in the first period with Krejci scoring to give the Bruins the winning goal in a 2-0 victory.

In contrast, Game 4 was as bad as it gets for the first line. Krejci had zero shots. Lucic and Horton had only one shot each. They were a first line in name only.

“Obviously, it wasn’t our best game,’’ Krejci said. “We still had some chances.’’

What has been puzzling for the top line and the coaching staff is the trio’s peaks-and-valleys postseason résumé. At times, they have been beasts. On other occasions, they have been ghosts. In Game 4, they were the latter.

As with most lines, their catalyst is their playmaking center. When Krejci is on, he’s winning draws, ragging the puck, and employing his creativity to open scoring chances for his wingmen.

Krejci was all off in Game 4. He lost nine of 12 faceoffs, which resulted in a lack of puck possession. On the few occasions Krejci had the puck on his stick, he was giving it away to the Lightning, like he did in the second period before Sean Bergenheim’s tying goal.

“We all know we can get better,’’ Krejci said. “I don’t want to get too much into it. I know my line can be on top of our game. We’ve got to get there [tonight] and play how we can.’’

At this point, it’s unlikely coach Claude Julien will tinker with the first line. Nor should he. When the players have been clicking, they’ve been dominant. It’s just up to the three to find their collective game and apply it to tonight’s match.

“I’m sure those three guys want to be held at the standard that they’re a great line and that they can be difference-makers every night,’’ Julien said. “I thought they played a great game in Game 3. They gave us the early lead and they were solid throughout it all.

“They’ve been a great line for us all year. There’s no doubt that in the playoffs, sometimes there’s a little more at stake. So you’re looking at that line a little closer than you normally would. Those fine details and the expectations are looked upon a little closer. But we expect them to be a great line for us every night. So do they. Whether that happens or not is another thing.

“But what we want to see from them is them trying to be the best they can every night. That’s what we’re hoping they’re going to be [tonight].’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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