BOSTON -- When Bruins center David Krejci suffered a severely dislocated wrist in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers last May, the Black and Gold's chances of advancing in the Stanley Cup playoffs were suddenly placed in a stranglehold.
Krejci was on the receiving end of a vicious but clean open-ice hit from the Flyers' Mike Richards in the first period of that game. Krejci needed emergency season-ending surgery that night.
The Bruins won Game 3 but lost the next four games, as Philadelphia produced one of the biggest comebacks in NHL history and eventually made it to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was evident that Krejci's absence during the semifinals had a negative effect on Boston's chances.
The 24-year-old forward is one of the more intense players to currently wear a Bruins sweater, and as much as his wrist injury was a major letdown last season, Krejci has erased any memory of that night.
He enters the 2010-11 season healthy. He said he's not motivated by the past, he's focused on the opportunity the Bruins have moving forward. Krejci will need to be a major component of Boston's success.
"At his best he's a great hockey player," said Bruins coach Claude Julien at the start of training camp.
We haven't seen Krejci at his best.
No doubt he's been an exciting and fundamentally sound two-way player since the Bruins selected him as their second-round pick (63rd overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft. He made his professional debut with Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, during the 2006-07 season.
This will be his fourth full-time season (fifth overall) in Boston and Krejci believes it will be his best.
"I can get better in every situation," he said. "On the other hand, I believe I played some of my best hockey in the second half of last season, and I believe I played some of my best hockey the year before, too. I want to be consistent. I'm older, I have more experience and I'm stronger, so I expect my best this year to be even better."
It's not easy to maintain that type of consistency for an entire NHL season, but Krejci has been able to during his short stint in the league. He's become a quiet and determined assassin, and he plans on keeping it that way.
"I think he is one of those players that a lot of teams have learned to respect and realize he's one of those guys that in the past have slid under the radar," Julien said. "By the time teams have realized it, the damage was done. He's going to get more attention as he goes on here, because of the respect he's earned over the years."
Krejci's teammates have witnessed how motivated he is during camp.
"Yeah, 100 percent," said fellow Bruins forward Milan Lucic. "He's motivated right now and he's excited to get things started. I'm excited to see what he'll bring this year, for sure."
With the possibility of center Marc Savard missing an extended amount of time this season due to post-concussion syndrome, Krejci will be looked upon as a go-to guy on the ice. His teammates know it. More importantly, Krejci does, too.
"He has the offensive and defensive skills to do it," Lucic said. "He's a high-end player and he's got a lot of skill. He has so much confidence when he has that puck on his stick. If I get a chance to play with him that'll be great. He always finds you when you're open and I'm sure he's going to have a great year."
The Bruins were so focused on the task at hand last May that the reality of not having Krejci in the lineup didn't sink in until Game 4 against the Flyers.
Even though he suffered the injury during the first period of Game 3 in Philadelphia, Boston managed to win that game.
"He's a big part of our power play and a big part of our penalty kill," Lucic said. "He's a guy who plays top minutes against other teams' first and second line. If you look at Game 4, especially Games 5 and 6, I think that's where his presence was mostly missed. [The Flyers] got [Simon] Gagne back and we couldn't match it without him in the lineup. That's where you could totally tell his presence was missed.
"Obviously he wasn't happy with how things ended for him last year with that injury," Lucic added. "It's going to give him more motivation to have a great start and keep going."
Krejci said he'll continue to do what he's done since he arrived in Boston.
"I just want to go out there and play my best," he said.
Expect to see his best this season.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.