Torey Krug stands 5-foot-9, weighs in at 185 pounds. The chip he carries on his shoulder is at least that size.
Poor Robert Thomas learned that the hard way on Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final when he was made to pay for the liberties his St. Louis Blues teammate David Perron tried to take at Krug’s expense. The helmetless Krug, hockey hair flying in the breeze, turned down a chance to take a cheap shot on Perron and instead followed the puck to Thomas. And boom! Krug delivered the check, the photo, the moment of the playoffs for the Bruins so far.
But as electrifying as that hit was, it should not overshadow the body of work that Krug has put in these playoffs. While there have been some questions throughout his career about whether he was a legitimate top-four defenseman, there have been nights during these past two months that he has actually played like a No. 1. After playing 27 minutes in the elimination game against the Hurricanes — his season high in a non-overtime game — he led all Bruins in the Game 1 victory in ice time at 25:24.
Being the fierce competitor that he is, Krug is relishing proving his critics wrong.
“The narrative of my career for a long time has been an offensive guy, a one-way street,” Krug said after the B’s Tuesday practice at the Garden. “Even after this round, I’m still going to have people doubting me, so you just try to play the correct way. That’s been instilled in me from Day One, not only as a player growing up, but from the day I stepped into this organization. I take a lot of pride on both sides of the puck and that’s just what I’m trying to do.”
Krug, paired with Brandon Carlo for most of the season, has always been trying to prove himself in his own end but, to be honest, he has never shown himself to be this proficient as a defender. There have been times in the past when his competitiveness has gotten the best of him and he’d lose a costly physical puck fight or choose to absorb a hit he probably should have sidestepped. But he’s seemed more judicious in the battles that he’s been picking and, without this version of Krug, the B’s might not be three wins away from a Stanley Cup.
Coach Bruce Cassidy has been Krug’s biggest booster in these playoffs. “He’s had a real good playoff in terms...people knows he’s a puck mover, people know his power-play acumen,” said Cassidy. “But he’s played heavy minutes against good players every night. I appreciate that, his teammates appreciate that and he’s building on his overall game. I think he’s always wanted to do that and I think this playoffs has allowed him to get out of that label of just being an offensive defenseman. He’s been real good for us, night in and night out. And he’s always been a physical guy.”
But as much as Cassidy is enjoying seeing Krug round out his game, he got as much a kick out of the hit on Thomas as anyone in the TD Garden balcony.
“Listen, I thought it was great,” said Cassidy. “Those are memorable moments. I’m a fan at heart. You see some stuff that’s a little bit old school and it’s good for the game, as long as nothing dangerous happens. And it just shows the passion of both players.”
On Tuesday, Krug relived the hit one more time.
“I felt like I was taken advantage of in front of the net and I wasn’t very happy about. I sprinted up the ice and saw Perron was going for a change and I thought I had a chance for an offensive opportunity, just being the second wave of attack,” he said.
Maybe in a regular-season game, Krug might have indulged himself and given Perron the old two-hander to the back of the legs, but he could not take that chance at this stage.
“I’m just taking a number and I’d try to get it later,” said Krug, who has 1-11-12 totals and plus-6 in the playoffs. “Obviously, I’m not going to do anything stupid and take a penalty and put our team in jeopardy. Luckily, the puck went to a dead spot in the ice where you can make a hit like that. You’re not able to do that unless you have the guys reloading and have the proper support and we did.”
What resulted just might have been the B’s signature moment of these playoffs if they’re able to grind out three more wins and capture the Cup.
But Krug has given this team a lot more than one moment in these playoffs.