By: Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty
Last time I wrote an article like this, it was about a more grueling type of series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although this wasn’t an easy series for the Bruins, despite winning it in a four-game sweep over the Carolina Hurricanes, this series had a different feel to it.
I won’t pinpoint every reason why they won the series because praise can go all around, but here are some of the main things that led to the team’s triumph as a whole, with a shot at the Stanley Cup on their minds.
Tuukka Rask is still really good
The list goes on for Rask. Bruce Cassidy even spoke to his focus and the zone he is in after last night’s series-clinching win in game four. The man is locked in. Letting up just five goals to the Canes all series, and stopping 109 of 114 shots had a massive influence on the team’s success. It’s comforting to play in front of a goalie that is playing out of his mind, and Rask surely is.
Team defense has been spectacular
The Bruins have won their last seven playoff games, and have outscored their opponents 29-8 in that span. Eight goals in seven games, that’s mind-boggling. I’m sure Rask would be the first one to tell you that the team defense in front of him as of late has been phenomenal.
Even in the absences of Charlie McAvoy in game one, and Zdeno Chara in game four, the overall defensive structure was pretty rock solid. That speaks to the depth and determination of this group. Rask provided a little more clarity from his perspective after the game last night, he gets into it around the 45-second mark of the video below.
Prowess and on the penalty kill and power play
Carolina’s power play was ineffective against the Bruins, and credit there goes back to Rask, again, and the penalty killing units in front of him. The Canes were 1/14 on the power play against the Bruins, with the lone goal coming three minutes and 42 seconds into the first period of game one.
On the other side of things, the Bruins were 7/15 (46.6%) on the power play. A huge reason as to why they were so successful on the man advantage was the simplicity of the puck movement and shot selection. They were calm and moved the puck efficiently. Their power play struggles when they are not doing those things, which we have seen previously in this playoff run.
The first two goals of game four were on the power play, making it, so Carolina had to play from behind with their backs already up against the wall. Special teams were a serious difference maker.
The top line showed up big-time
Most recently, the top line showed up on each of the four goals in the Bruins’ game four win last night, as shown in the videos above. The top line took some criticism earlier in the playoffs, saw some line juggling take place, and then they responded in a big way.
Game four stats:
Patrice Bergeron: 2G, 1A
Brad Marchand: 1G, 1A
David Pastrnak: 1G, 2A
That helps. One cannot overstate their importance, because the Bruins literally wouldn’t have won the game without them and Rask last night. The top line combined for six goals and eight assists in four games against Carolina, bringing their combined playoff totals to 22 goals and 24 assists in 51 games. That’s really good, can confirm.
Players stepping up in the absences of teammates
First, it was McAvoy in game one. Steven Kampfer slotted in due to McAvoy’s one-game suspension, and even scored the first goal of the series, in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game — and he did it just 2:55 into the first period. What a way to insert yourself into the lineup to fill the shoes of a top line defender in McAvoy.
Chris Wagner and Zdeno Chara were out of the lineup last night, Wagner with a hand/wrist injury due to a blocked shot in game three, and Chara with an undisclosed injury. Noel Acciari and John Moore slotted in due to their absences, and both played solid games last night in one of the team’s better overall performances in the whole postseason, as said by Cassidy after the game.
Sometimes things like that happen, and you need guys to step up, and Kampfer, Acciari, and Moore did when their names were called. The team as a whole was consistently good throughout the majority of the series, and the ‘next man up’ mentality can be credited for that, in part.
Now, the Bruins await the fates of the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks, who square off in game four of the Western Conference Finals tonight. San Jose currently leads the series 2-1. Whoever the opponent is, the Bruins now have some time to decompress until the Stanley Cup Finals roll around.