Top line shows up when it counts

BOSTON -- The Bruins managed to silence their late-season critics with a convincing 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Now, if they can avoid the inconsistency that plagued them in April and seize the momentum, they should be able to take this series.

A big part of the responsibility lies with the top line, which stepped up on Wednesday night.

Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton provided exactly what the team needed Wednesday night and combined for six points, including Horton’s game-winning goal at 19:48 of the first period. Overall, Krejci had a goal and two assists, Horton had one goal and Lucic added two assists.

“They’re a great part of our team and when they’re on their game like that we all feed off of it," said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. "Last night they were obviously very good for us.

“I wasn’t even worried about it. You could tell also in the last few [regular-season] games Looch was really getting into his game and his groove. [Krejci] has been good all year, so it was great to see them play like that.”

With Horton back in the lineup after missing the last five regular-season games with an upper-body injury, the chemistry returned when the Bruins needed it most. He was forechecking, cycling the puck well and strong in front of the net, which produced his goal when he redirected a shot by defenseman Wade Redden and past Toronto goalie James Reimer for a power-play tally in the closing seconds of the first period.

Let’s face it, the Bruins’ top line wasn’t at its best for the majority of the season, but this threesome proved crucial in Game 1.

Horton’s goal was his ninth career playoff goal and his first since the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. He was absent from the playoffs in 2012 after suffering a season-ending concussion. This spring, he’s healthy and it showed in Game 1.

“He’s stepped up and scored some big goals and he’s been a big part of this hockey team since he’s been here and I even said it, it was a big loss not having him a part of our group last year heading into the playoffs and it’s good to see him healthy again and helping us win,” Lucic said.

Krejci has always performed on the big stage. His three total points on Wednesday matched his totals from the final 13 games of the regular season. He now has five career postseason games with three or more points.

If the Bruins enjoy a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, at this pace Krejci could challenge his 23-point total (12 goals and 11 assists) during the 2011 playoffs.

"I’m just trying to go out there, do my best and help the team to win games,” he said. “As a line, I think we did a good job. We put the puck in the net. But in the playoffs, there’s always somebody new to be a hero, so [Wednesday] I feel like we had a good game, but if we want to make a good run, we know that we’re going to need all four lines.”

Krejci’s humble attitude does not go unnoticed by his teammates. He can also be cocky in the most professional way possible, and that’s why he’s able to perform at such a high level in the playoffs.

“David, I think he’s really underrated,” said Bruins forward Daniel Paille. “He’s a skilled player, but he can play with some grit and that’s what I love about him, the way he steps up for us that way. They stepped up huge for us and continue to dominate like they did. When they play strong that way, they’re a tough line to stop and it’s really fun to watch them.”

When Lucic plays mean and with passion, the results are usually positive for the Bruins. When he’s at his best, the team feeds off his energy and it normally equals success. It’s worked that way in the past, and it did again in Game 1.

Of course, there’s plenty of hockey remaining, so he and his teammates will need to maintain that level of play.

“It’s a part of my game. It’s the way I have to play and like I said, we just got to keep it going,” Lucic said.

The Bruins did not practice Thursday, as players were given the day off to rest or receive treatment. They’ll be back on the practice ice Friday morning at Ristuccia Arena to prepare for Game 2 Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at TD Garden.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs practiced at Boston University on Thursday and will look to even this series before it shifts to the Air Canada Centre for Games 3 and 4 next Monday and Wednesday.

Boston will try to build on its performance from Game 1, one that the Bruins have been trying to find all season.

“Playoffs are so different than in-season,” Krejci said. “You’re trying to build something, and I feel like we built something in the first game. We have to carry it on into the second, but we know that Toronto is going to be even better on Saturday, so we have to bring our ‘A’ game again.”

If the Bruins’ top line can match its performance from Game 1, that shouldn’t be a problem.

“It was the first time in a long time where we really pushed the pace and you can see in the first period that we wanted to come out with a better outcome than being down 1-0 or just being tied 1-1 and we were pushing and pushing and pushing,” Lucic said. “So, we’re just focused on what we need to do to be successful and it was great that everyone was able to step up and contribute, but it’s only one game and there’s a long, long road ahead and I know with a great coach like they have they’re going to make certain adjustments and come out even harder in Game 2.”