BOSTON (CBS) — With the defense-first system of Claude Julien and the Boston Bruins, you might think a rookie defenseman with just three games of NHL experience who was called up to play his first-ever postseason game would be kept to a strict set of rules. Stay in position, don’t try to do too much, and above all, don’t screw up.
Yet Thursday night in Game 1 against the Rangers, Torey Krug tried a philosophy that was a little bit different: Let it fly.
The 22-year-old undersized blue-liner stepped right into regular ice time, with veterans Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden all shelved with injuries. That trio has a combined 274 games of postseason experience and 106 playoff points, with each player having at least one Stanley Cup Final appearance on his resume. Krug, meanwhile, skated 15 minutes and 47 seconds in the NHL this season.
But you’d never know based on the way he stepped up.
The Bruins trailed in the third period, following Derek Stepan’s goal 14 seconds after the second intermission. Less than a minute later, Steve Eminger was penalized for holding Rich Peverley, and the Boston power play (3-for-20 in the seven-game series against Toronto) went to work. The first power-play unit got a long opportunity but couldn’t score, and the second unit hopped over the boards with time on the man advantage winding down.
Brad Marchand worked the puck back to Dougie Hamilton, hardly a grizzled vet at just 19 years old. Hamilton passed to Krug, left wide open at the top of the faceoff dot, and Krug was able to size up a shot and fire on net. The shot beat Henrik Lundqvist, widely considered to be the best goalie in the world, on his glove side, and Krug had tied it in the third period of his first-ever playoff game.
“It was huge, there’s no doubt,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said of the score. “For his first goal, he couldn’t have asked for better timing. It just shows how good a player he is. … He certainly did a good job of coming into this situation and just going out there and playing the way he normally does. We asked him to do that, and that’s exactly what he did.”
His game at the pro level is still not fully known. After three years at Michigan State, Krug joined the Providence Bruins for his first AHL season this year. He tallied 13 goals and 32 assists in 63 games, and he registered three helpers in seven postseason games for the P-Bruins.
If there was any worry that Krug might play scared while jumping into the middle of playoff intensity, it was washed away pretty early. From his very first shift, he didn’t shy away from playing the body, registering a hit on Derek Dorsett just 2:01 into the game. Krug, who stands just 5-foot-9, later dumped 6-foot-7 Brian Boyle into the Boston net after a whistle.
Clearly, the spotlight was no problem for Krug.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Krug said. “It’s one of those things that you dream about as a kid. I came up here just preparing as if I was going to play, and I was lucky enough to get into the lineup. I helped the team win, and that was my goal, so I’m very happy.”
Krug said some of the confidence he felt on the ice came from the confidence placed in him by Julien, the coaching staff and the organization.
“One of the things that they stressed early on when I first got here and they continued to stress throughout the game, was play your game. Don’t be scared to make mistakes, do what you do best, there’s a reason you’re here. That confidence that they showed in me went a long way for myself.”
He finished the night with 16:41 time on ice, three shots, three hits, a blocked shot and of course, the crucial power-play goal.
“It was amazing,” Krug said of the whole experience. “I’ve said before that my main goal is to come in here and try to help the team win, and I was fortunate enough to do that.”
He sure was, and a few more performances like that, and he very well could be competing with those veterans for playing time. At the very least, should Julien require Krug’s services again in Game 2 on Sunday, the coach will have a confident young man ready to do the job.