No one saw this coming. Not the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not even the Boston Bruins.
Sure the relentless Bruins believed they could knock off the high-flying Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final. But no one imagined it would be in a four-game sweep
The Bruins didn't even allow the talented Penguins a lead at anytime in the 275 minutes and 17 seconds of the series. In fact, Sidney Crosby and Co. couldn't muster a single goal past Boston's remarkable goalkeeper Tuukka Rask in the final 126:28.
Maybe it was a good thing Tim Thomas decided to take a year off. Rask has been everything Thomas was in the Bruins' successful Stanley Cup run in 2010-11. After Rask earned two shutouts in this series, including a 26-save performance in the 1-0 series finale
on Friday, and stopped 134 of 136 shots he delivered the Bruins back to the final.
Hard to believe, but the season appeared to be over for this Boston team 26 days ago when they were down 4-1 in Game 7
of their opening-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
We all know what happened. The Bruins somehow managed to rally in with three goals in the final 10:42 and then Patrice Bergeron won the series in overtime.
Including that huge win, Boston now has reeled off nine wins in its last 10 games and has outscored the opposition 33-16.
Penguins held in check
They now have won five in a row and held the Penguins to just two goals in the East final. This was a Penguins team that scored an average of 4.27 goals per game in the first two rounds and looked like an offensive juggernaut.
"We play that game 100 times against Toronto and we lose it 99 times," Bruins centre Chris Kelly said. "But things happen for a reason. We knew we could play a lot better."
So how did this happen? How did the Bruins keep Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang off the score sheet for four games? How did the Bruins outscore Pittsburgh 12-2 in four games?
Besides Rask, the Bruins played a relentless game. They played a smart series and limited their turnovers. They have an underrated passing game and have a knack for hitting trailing teammates in the offensive zone.
They have a balanced four-line, three-defence pairing lineup that snuffed out the Penguins with stingy defensive and neutral zone coverage as well as diligent back-checking.
They didn't give the Penguins any room to roam. They made them hurry passes, sometimes bad passes that the Bruins turned into goals with a sound transition game. They didn't allow many second-chance opportunities for Pittsburgh.
"They're solid," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "They make you earn your chances. That being said, I don't feel they totally shut us down. I feel like we got our chances, but Rask made some big saves.
"They're consistent. They don't give you chances. You have to earn them. We earned them, but unfortunately we didn't capitalize on them."
Back in the final
After Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid scored
5:01 into the third period, the Penguins waited until the final minute for their best chances. But Bruins captain Zdeno Chara blocked a Malkin attempt
in close. Jarome Iginla, who was supposed to push the Penguins to the top, was stopped by Rask as the buzzer sounded.
All of a sudden, the Bruins are back in the final again.
All of a sudden, Jaromir Jagr has been on a team that has knocked out his former club two years in a row. All of a sudden, the 41-year-old kid is going back to the final for the first time in 21 years.
"Well, it's more games. I like that," Jagr said, when asked what it's like to go back to the Stanley Cup final. "I wish I could play right now. To get the chance to play for a Cup is great. It's more games to make the season longer and spend a little more time with my teammates. It's great.
"I think I can enjoy it more. I feel less pressure than I used to feel. It's a great team and as long as we keep the confidence, right now we can beat anybody."
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