BOSTON — Playoff legends arrive in all sizes and shapes and this one has rolled off the assembly line at 5 feet, 9 inches — maybe — and 180 pounds.
Torey Krug seems as wide as he is tall, like a Chevy Tahoe LTZ or some stout American sports utility vehicle out of Michigan. Kevin Paul Dupont, the esteemed hockey writer from the Boston Globe, compared the rookie Bruins defenseman on Twitter to former Ranger Reijo “Rexy” Ruotsalainen and former Hartford Whaler Risto Siltanen.
Hockey fans get the picture on Krug, Boston’s newest folk hero, a little tank with a laser shot. And that one-timer from the point that beat Henrik Lundqvist on the power play midway through the second period for Boston’s first goal and his fourth in five playoff games? Wow.
“I had just hopped on the ice from the bench and tried to get open and get my shot through,” Krug said. “When I take one-timers, I try to make the goalie make a save with his hands.”
“This is a great feeling. This is a great experience.”
The Bruins open their Eastern Conference championship series against the Penguins in Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Krug, 22, spent the season with the Providence-Bruins in the AHL, visited the XL Center during the winter to play the Whale with absolutely no fanfare. Yet all during that time, a couple of things were becoming clearer. This guy has a wonderful knack for finding the shooting seams, threading a puck through a maze of skates, sticks and shot-blocking bodies.
He also has a wonderful knack for getting rid of that laser shot in a hurry. And that, along with his squat size, draws the Rexy and Risto comparisons.
Who would have figured by the time the teams had gone through the traditional conga line of handshakes that Krug not only would have more goals in this series than any of his teammates, but twice as many as any of the Rangers?
Who would have figured that he’d have more power-play goals (three) in the series than the entire Rangers team? (OK, you might have guessed that.)
Who would have figured that Brad Richards, the Rangers’ $60 million man, would be sitting in the press box, a scratched man, and Bruins fans would be chanting that long, “Kruuuuuuug!” every time he touched the puck? You would have thought ol’ Loooooooo Merloni had made the ride up from Pawtucket and come to the plate at Fenway.
Yep, the Stanley Cup playoffs can be a long, strange trip.
The Bruins’ fourth line, the heroes of Game 3, struck twice more in this clincher that sent the Bruins into the Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins. At 13:49 of the second period, after a bad giveaway by Roman Hamrlik, Daniel Paille tried to slide a pass to Shawn Thornton on a rush to the net. The play didn’t connect, but Gregory Campbell followed the carom off Thornton and stuck it past Lundqvist. With Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, Campbell then swept a 50-foot backhander into the empty net with 50.4 seconds left to finish off the Rangers.
“Our game is pretty straightforward, not pretty,” Campbell said of his line.
“It seems like we keep surprising you,” Thornton said. “I think we’ve proven we can actually play.”
The Rangers actually had taken a 1-0 lead in the first period when Dan Girardi drove a slap shot from the blue line through a huge sun-blocking screen by Brian Boyle in front of Tuukka Rask for, yes, a power-play goal. Although he eventually got thrown to the ice like a rag doll, Derek Dorsett, surrendering more than 20 pounds, was a willing combatant with Thornton. Dorsett also bounced back from a wicked hit by Milan Lucic. The Rangers showed some spunk, some early give and take.
Lundqvist looked airtight, his best save on a wondrous glove stab on Lucic’s slapper from the slot.
That’s when Krug hit. According to Elias, he is the first rookie defenseman in the post-expansion era to score four goals in his first five postseason games. A couple of weeks ago, he was battling Wilkes Barre-Scranton, the Penguins farm team. Now, he’s battling the Penguins and Sidney Crosby.
His confidence level?
“It’s pretty high,” he answered.
It should be.
“The more the coaching staff puts you on the ice, the better it feels. It’s a great feeling to get patted on the back,” Krug said. “I have to do things like (score) if I want to stick around. If I’m not going to make an impact in the offensive zone, they’ll find a bigger guy to do the other stuff.”
Krug left Michigan State after his junior season, signing a free-agent deal with Boston in March 2012. He had a number of offers. He chose the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. His three-year, entry-level deal is worth about $2.75 million. Things are going great these days. He’s getting married this summer, too.
“It has been a crazy year,” Krug said. “I chose Boston for this reason, they expect to win the Stanley Cup year after year.”
Slowed by an ankle injury, Krug still scored 13 goals and 45 points in 63 games with the P-Bruins. But when the Bruins lost three of their regular defensemen, he was called up and met with some vital words from coach Claude Julien.
“Don’t be scared,” Krug said Julien told him.
“Actually, I told him not to be afraid to make mistakes,” Julien said
And he hasn’t been afraid to take it to the other team with his shot.
“The first thing, you want to get your feet moving and change the lane of your shot,” Krug said. “Second, you can also catch them off guard with that quick shot.”
He practices his one-timer in the summer. His uncle runs a stick-handling, skills hockey company. He looks to get pucks into small areas and release his shot quickly. In Providence, all year, the coaching staff would feed him one-timers before and after practice until his arms got tired. Every Friday, he worked like crazy with assistant Kevin Dean.
“The goals started coming,” he said.
And they haven’t stopped.
Rask had let the Rangers back in the series in Game 4, of course, when he stumbled, fell and could only watch helplessly as Karl Hagelin’s shot hit Johnny Boychuk’s stick and slid into his net.
“Probably the ugliest goal I have ever seen,” Lundqvist said
“Sometimes it stinks to be a goalie,” Rask said. “I choose to have a sense of humor about it.”
Rask entered the day with a 2-8 record in closeout days. And after he allowed one of the most hilariously ugly goals in Bruins playoff history, the concerns were back. After all, he was the guy in net when the Bruins did the impossible and blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers in 2010. After all, he was in the net as the Bruins surrendered a 3-1 series lead and fell behind 4-1 in Game 7 in the third period against the Maple Leafs.
Guess what? He played great. And when Rask made a right-pad save on a clean Ryan Callahan breakaway in the third period, well, as Krug said, it was awesome.
“He really does have a good sense of humor about it,” Krug said. “He’s a game-changer.”
And, so, too, is this little folk hero out of Michigan.