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The Boston Bruins are headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years, and they’ll have plenty of time to prepare after sweeping away the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins. Tuukka Rask earned his second shutout of the series in the Bruins 1-0 Game 4 win.
Fans in Pittsburgh and around the globe are still in shock, wondering how the NHL’s best offense could possibly score just two goals in four games. In addition to outscoring the Penguins 12-2 in the series the Bruins kept Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla from registering a single point over the four game span. It’s worth noting that those four Penguins combined for 59 points in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Much has been made of the Penguins’ Eastern Conference Finals collapse, but it is certainly time to give the Boston Bruins the lion’s share of the credit for their achievement. They were head and heels above their competition in every department for four games. Even when the Penguins produced their very best effort in Game 3, outshooting their hosts 54-40, they could not break through, eventually falling victim to a Patrice Bergeron double overtime goal.
Many suspected that the Penguins might roll over in Game 4, down 3-0 in series, but a team that retains eleven players from its 2009 championship has too much class for that. The Pens put up a fight, but in the end the Bruins did just enough to seal the deal.
The Bruins out-chanced the Penguins slightly in an open first period that saw excellent goaltending from Tuukka Rask and Tomas Vokoun. Interestingly, the Penguins nine shots came from only three shooters: Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and James Neal. The trio failed to dent the unflappable Rask, who showed his composure throughout.
The Bruins endured a scary second period, marred by two bad penalties from Brad Marchand. Coming into Game 4, the Penguins ultra-gifted powerplay was 0-12 in the series, but a breakthrough seemed imminent as Marchand marched to the box, first for roughing Matt Niskanen and soon after for interfering with Brooks Orpik.
Despite the ominous feeling in the TD Garden, the Bruins penalty kill continued to excel, actually earning the only dangerous chance of the Penguins’ powerplays on a shorthanded breakaway. When Marchand returned from the sin bin, Brenden Morrow released some frustration by tripping the pesky Bruins winger but earned his own all-expense paid trip to the box.
On the ensuing power play, the Bruins could not beat Tomas Vokoun, but a few superb chances began to shift momentum in the direction of the home team. They would control the majority of the action from that point on.
When the breakthrough finally came early in the third, it sprang from perhaps the most unlikely source. Five minutes into the third period, Brad Marchand lugged the puck into the Penguins’ zone and circled back along the boards to await reinforcements. Two nights after assisting on the OT winner, Marchand made up for bad penalties with a pinpoint pass to defenseman Adam McQuaid who was charging across the blue line. McQuaid got all of his 209 pounds behind the shot and went bar down to light the lamp.
It was only the second goal of McQuaid’s postseason, and it came at a crucial time. With 15 minutes remaining the pressure fell entirely on the Penguins offense as Bruins fans began the nervous wait for the final buzzer and the arrival of the Prince of Wales Trophy.
With 90 seconds remaining, Tomas Vokoun, who performed admirably in the series, sprinted to the bench for the extra man. With all of their big guns on the ice, the Penguins tried desperately to find the game winner. They came close with Tuukka Rask on his belly in a wild netfront scrum, but Evgeni Malkin could not pull the trigger.
As time expired the game ended in perhaps the most fitting way. Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla, who spurned the Bruins wrongfully believing that he’d have a better chance of hoisting the elusive Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, harmlessly shot the puck into the steady glove of Tuukka Rask. Rask finished with 26 saves to earn his second career playoff shutout. The legend of the 26-year-old fan is rapidly being written as he gets better with every game. After stopping 134 of Pittsburgh’s 136 shots in the series, Rask is now just four wins shy of perhaps surpassing Tim Thomas‘ remarkable 2011 playoff run.
As the horn sounded, Boston’s TD Garden erupted with chants of “We want the Cup!”
Returning 17 players from their 2011 championship team, the Boston Bruins found another gear in the Conference Finals, that few thought they had. They showed an ability to excel in all three zones, while playing with heart and discipline. Playing at their very peak they should be a worthy opponent for either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.
After the traditional handshakes, all that remained was the presentation of the Prince of Wales Trophy. In accordance with tradition or what some might call superstition, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara refused to touch the trophy, with his eye on a far greater prize. Instead he invited his teammates over for a photo with the trophy, as he did two years ago.
The Bruins may have recaptured the spirit of 2011, but after sweeping the Penguins perhaps this team is even better than Claude Julien‘s last Cup-winning club.
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