BOSTON, MA - The hats rained down for David Krejci.
The ice crew skated out to gather the caps, which their Black & Gold owners up in the stands at TD Garden sacrificed to honor the special occasion. Reilly Smith grabbed a white one nearby and placed it over the centerman's helmet on the bench.
There were only 14 seconds left on the clock, when Krejci sealed Boston's 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night with an empty-netter.
It was Krejci's third NHL regular season hat trick of his career, with his last coming just over two years ago on March 1, 2012. He owns the Bruins' two most recent three-goal games.
The emphasis on such a "milestone" has to come from the outside, though, because for Krejci - in his mind - all he did was help the team earn its second straight win.
And, as usual, the Bruins' alternate captain was more concerned postgame on what he and his teammates could improve for the next time out.
"I still feel there’s some stuff we have to improve, especially on our defensive side," said Krejci. "But on the other hand, the puck has been going in the net for us the last few games. We've got to keep that going, but at the same, just go out there and take care of our own end first and go from there."
A prideful two-way player and teammate, Krejci constantly emphasizes the Spoked-B's "team game."
That often involves the forward deploying a pass-first mentality, using his vision to quickly weigh his options. It also often means firing up the drop pass counter, watching his creativity unfold on the ice.
But his "shoot" mindset finally won out against the Florida Panthers and Tim Thomas.
"You know, some people people give me a hard time that I don't have many goals, but you know, I don't care as long as I'm helping my team and my linemates," Krejci said postgame, making it very clear that he's not all too focused on personally racking up the third 20-goal season of his career (though, with 16 goals and 22 games to go, he's well on his way).
The center, by the way, has 39 assists to give him a team-high 55 points on the season through 61 games.
In 2010-11, as he pointed out postgame, he only had 13 goals (to go with his 49 assists).
'Does Krejci shoot enough now these days?' Julien was asked postgame.
"Well, he did tonight," said the bench boss. "You know, Dave has always been a pass-first kind of guy, but he’s got a good shot. I think his approach this year has been a little bit more about shooting, and you know, even being on the point on the power play, I’ve seen him, where at times he would never shoot but this year he’s taking the shots when that shooting lane is there."
"It’s probably more confidence in his shot, and he does have a good shot so it’s nice to see him use it."
He even used it to fire in the empty-netter, opting to shoot from center ice. But not because he was absolutely dying for the hat trick; it was because, in his mind, he had already gone over all of the other possibilities.
"I didn’t think I had another option and I also knew I had two goals already, so why not go for it, right?" he said.
"We obviously recognized the situation and he had two at the time with an empty net," said linemate Milan Lucic, who set up Krejci along with Jarome Iginla. "We were just able to turn the puck over high up there and I looked for him and he was open and was able to hit the empty net there from the neutral zone."
"He’s a fun guy to be a winger for," said Iginla. "But he sure had it going tonight. His shot there, quick snappers, a few that just – I thought as a whole, it was a team thing…our last two games now are building in the right direction."
It's also fun to be the goalie that isn't getting the hat trick scored on him.
"He was awesome tonight and all over the ice and just so calm with the puck," said Chad Johnson, who earned his 12th win between the pipes as a Bruin with 23 saves. "He’s such an elite player; it’s fun to be on this side of it and not on the other side."
Krejci's initial goal helped the Bruins to open the scoring for the first time post-Olympic Break. After he dumped the puck into the zone following a Panthers' turnover, he went in towards the net, blocked a clearing attempt and quickly skated to the top of the crease. He waited, got Thomas to go down and then snapped it past him, high-glove.
Holding a 2-0 lead, thanks to a rebound goal from Iginla, the Bruins pulled away with Krejci's second goal.
With 47.9 left on the clock in the second period, the centerman ripped in a drive from the slot. Lucic's forecheck had caused the puck to pop out to Krejci, who initially faked the shot and then fed Kevan Miller inside the blueline. The defenseman's drive rebounded right out to the center in the slot, and there was no weighing options before he ripped it past Thomas.
The empty-netter from long-range as the clock was winding down iced the hat trick, and the game. It also put the Bruins one step closer to catching the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference. They now sit just three points back.
"The priority, for me, is our game and how we play because the rest will take care of itself," said Julien. "And you know, that’s the main concern right now, is us finding our game, and if we can play well and win our games, hopefully it will be good enough to at least catch up, if not surpass them."
"We feel good on this team. We have had a strong team the whole year and we're sitting pretty good in the standings so there's no reason why not to feel comfortable," said Krejci.
"Offensively, our game has been there pretty consistently the whole year, but we still have to work on some defensive parts of our game," he stressed. "And we have [some] 20 games to go, lots of time to work on some stuff and try to feel good about ourselves going into the playoffs and try to make another push."
As the Bruins work to build that consistency heading into the postseason, maybe the center will shoot his way to a few more goals in the process.
But, of course, only if passing to his wingers doesn't present a better option.
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