BOSTON — It was there for the taking: a chance for the Bruins to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins and their vaunted offense out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; a chance to to close it out on a Friday night before the crazy TD Garden crowd exactly like they had done two years ago. And that’s exactly what happened.
The Bruins have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years with a hard fought 1-0 win on a third period goal by Adam McQuaid. Brad Marchand did most of the work, bringing the puck into the Pens zone, stopping and letting the defense go by and laying a soft pass to the middle as the trailing Mcquaid let a one-time blast go, which was tipped by Jerome Iginla into the top corner, glove side by Tomas Vokoun.
Just like that Friday night two years ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the crowd erupted and for the next 15 minutes of playing time, nervously standing and in full throat.
But as you would guess, the Penguins would not go easily. After all, they were the best team in the Eastern Conference for the regular year. In losing to the Bruins 2-1 in double overtime on Wednesday, you could see that for a few breaks, the Penguins could have been back in the series.
But that did not happen — not on this night and not against the swarming team defense and the stupendous goal tending of Tuukka Rask. He has been nothing short of tremendous this playoff year, and Friday night he was terrific — finding every way to keep the puck out of the net and the Penguins off the scoreboard. Whether it was robbing Sidney Crosby on a breakaway or taking one off the mask from Kris Letang, Rask was not about to be dented. The Bruins couldn’t afford to, as Vokoun was also playing top notch goal tending at the other end.
Pittsburgh had come into the series scoring a lofty 4-plus goals per game in the playoffs but managed a mere two goals in four games, while going 0-for-15 on the power play. The Bruins were committed to their system of team defense and making sure that they limit the chances of the Penguins superstars, especially Crosby and Evgeny Malkin.
The biggest save/block did not come from Rask, but from the Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara. With 1:30 left in the game and the Pittsburgh net empty and the Penguins trying to find a way to score the tying goal, Malkin got the puck low in the right circle and got Rask to commit early and he went down and the net was wide open. Chara had gone down trying to block the shot as well. Malkin’s toe dragged around the net minder but Chara was able to get his arm on Malkin’s shot and knocked it away. Pittsburgh still had possession and somehow, ironically, Iginla — who had rejected coming to Boston at the trade deadline and chose Pittsburgh — had the puck in the high slot and blasted on goal and at the buzzer, Rask would glove the shot and Boston would have its sweep and ticket to the Finals!
The Penguins hadn’t been swept in 45 playoff series. The last time was in 1979 by the Bruins. The Bruins swept the Eastern Pennsylvania team, the Philadelphia Flyers two years ago on their way to the Championship. Boston will enjoy a few days off as they find out if the will open the Stanley Cup Finals in Chicago or host the first two games against the Los Angeles Kings.