June 08, 2013
Tremendous Team Defense Carries Day For Bruins
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Dean Pees, Matt Patricia, all of you, stand up and cheer for the Boston Bruins.
In the NFL, you think of the1985 Bears and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens as arguably the two best one-season defenses in league history. You may be seeing the hockey equivalent over on Causeway Street this spring. What the Bruins were able to do to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 NHL Eastern Conference Finals represents a series for the ages, an incredible expose on how to completely suffocate the league's best offensive team over four games and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Bruins parlayed a third period goal by defenseman Adam McQuaid into a 1-0 victory in Game 4 of the East Finals, ousting the Penguins in four straight games and sending them to the Cup Finals against either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings (Chicago leads that series 3-1 and can wrap up the series Saturday night at home). The Bruins outscored Pittsburgh in the entire series by an aggregate score of 12-2. That's only two goals scored by a team that features Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla, Yevgeny Malkin, James Neal, and many other guys who can put the puck in the net with regularity.
The last minute of Game 4 has to go down as perhaps the most exciting minute of hockey in recent Bruins history, if not the entire history of the team. Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun with about 90 seconds left in the game, and the last minute featured a total and reckless assault on Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask. Malkin missed a scoring chance late in the game and shot the puck across the net. The last shot belonged to Iginla in the slot, and the erstwhile Calgary Flame who nixed a trade to the Bruins a few months back could not solve Rask as time ran out and the TD Garden exploded in celebration.
The entire series was a study in forechecking at its finest. For a team to keep Crosby and Malkin off the scoreboard for four straight games is something in and of itself, but to keep the entire Penguin team to only two goals in four games represents one of the best defensive efforts in one series in NHL playoff history. For the entire four game series, Pittsburgh was consistently choked off in front of the Boston goal, never getting any good scoring chances outside of some shots off the posts and some great saves by Rask.
Most observers of the Patriots will point out that it's the system and not the players. Belichick has always been a master of defense, and year after year he has been able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear with subpar defenders, especially in the secondary. His best defenses have been in the three years he has managed to win a Super Bowl, when he actually had the on-field talent to do his bidding.
So, how do you explain holding Pittsburgh to two goals in four games?
First of all, Claude Julien needs to get the love that Doc Rivers, Terry Francona and Belichick have gotten over the last decade. Julien gets roundly criticized for some of his game strategies and player management, but it is really unfounded and undeserved. He has firm control of this team, and the style of play the Bruins exhibited over these last two series (8-1 since that epic Game 7 win over Toronto) has been methodical and at times surgical.
The defensive schema of the Bruins has been a marvel, but the Bruins have the players to pull that off. Zdeno Chara cannot ever be ignored for the Norris Trophy. He made a play on Crosby in the third period where he literally took the puck away on a right wing rush like taking candy from a baby. The fact that Chara simply smothered Crosby, who once scored a Gold Medal winning goal against the USA three years ago, encapsulated the entire series for the Bruins. Basically, the Penguins were never able to set up any decent scoring chances thanks to great placement of players around Rask, tight checking, deflecting passes and nobody caught out of position.
Gregory Campbell will go down as the Nathan Horton of 2013. Horton was knocked out of the 2011 Cup Finals thanks to a dirty hit from Aaron Rome. Campbell broke his leg stopping a Malkin slap shot during Game 3, and is lost for the playoffs because of it. Campbell's play embodies the selfless defensive effort exhibited by the entire team, and nobody on the team didn't stand up and take notice of Campbell's sacrifice.
Let's put it this way. If some media outlet interviews Campbell after the Cup Finals, let's hope someone pulls a Mike Timlin and expresses their appreciation to Campbell for his dedication to the team, like Tim Wakefield for the Sox in 2007 in giving up his roster spot for Jon Lester. The Bruins didn't win the series on that one play, but Campbell will be the inspirational leader for the Bruins in the Finals like Horton was two years ago.
Rask is becoming the new rock star in Boston. He is making everyone forget Tim Thomas, the 2011 Smythe Trophy winner who is now more remembered for his crazy political rants than his goaltending. Rask keeps getting asked questions about his confidence, and those questions need to stop. Too many reporters keep bringing up the 2010 meltdown when the Bruins squandered a 3-0 games lead to the Philadelphia Flyers. Rask has done more than enough to establish himself as the goalie of the moment, and if the Bruins do bring home the Stanley Cup again in a few weeks, Rask will probably have a lot to say about it. The Thomas Era is over. The Rask Era is alive and kicking.
According to whowins.com, the Bruins "annihilated" the Penguins in that the Bruins won the series in a sweep where the Penguins never led at any time. The Red Sox won the 2004 World Series in this manner in that the Cardinals never led in that series at any time. The complete and total domination of the Penguins will go down as one of the most amazing playoff series in Bruins history, if not NHL history. The Penguins were the best team in the Eastern Conference regular season, and Crosby is still one of the most potent offensive weapons in the NHL, and is only 25 years old. The Bruin defense turned him and the rest of the Penguins into something totally irrelevant.
So the Stanley Cup Finals will return to Boston once again. Chicago and Los Angeles await the Bruins, who will try and duplicate the feat of the 1971-72 Bruins in winning their second Stanley Cup in three years.
The Celtics of 2008 did it with defense. So did the three Patriot teams who won the Super Bowl. Get used to more of the same from the Bruins.
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