Just when Bruins fans thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. The Boston Bruins controlled game one of the Eastern Conference Finals tilt with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and for those who expected the Pens to come out swinging in game two, let’s just say it didn’t quite play out that way. The experts can spend all day ranting about how Pittsburgh didn’t show up in game one, but after the Penguins received an even more thorough thrashing in their second attempt, people might start to wonder if the outcomes in this series are more about what the Bruins are doing right. The B’s forechecking, goaltending, scoring, and team defense have all been outstanding, but each of those characteristics is built on a sturdy foundation of mental toughness that the Bruins have in spades, and the Penguins are struggling to find.
So far in these NHL playoffs, three of the four teams remaining have faced adversity. The Bruins needed a historic three goal ten minute third period comeback against the Maple Leaf’s to save their season (not to mention the jobs of the head coach and general manager).
The President’s Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks went down three games to one against a Detroit Red Wings team that always seems to know how to win come the spring. Even the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings needed all seven games to put away a pesky underdog Sharks team.
The Penguins? With the exception of their goalie calamity against the eighth seeded Islanders, Pittsburgh has coasted through the playoffs by relying on three of the league’s top ten players (including possibly it’s two best) to carry it through to the Conference Finals.
Game one of this series knocked the wind out of the Penguins sails, but in the end good teams, championship teams, are going to find a way to press on. In order for that to happen the Penguins needed a statement game from captain Sidney Crosby.
What they got in game two was just the opposite. Just minutes into the first period, Crosby made what you could only characterize as a lazy cross-ice dump in from the top right of the blue line that would begin the Penguins downward spiral for the rest of the evening.
Bruins winger Brad Marchand predictably jumped the play and was off to the races. With nobody in front of him, the pint sized winger bombed it down the ice and snapped a shot past a frozen Thomas Vokun. Marchand’s pretty finish off the intercept would serve as a microcosm of team that wants to win compared to an opponent that is overly fixated on trying to score.
If you dig a little deeper the play would also be indicative of how the turnover battle would showcase an even greater disparity between the two teams. The Bruins managed to turn the puck over just twice in sixty minutes. The Penguins on the other hand, managed to cough up it up a whopping twelve times, including a game-high four from, you guessed it, Sidney Crosby.
Later in the first period, Nathan Horton and David Krejci continued their line’s dominance by scoring consecutive goals that gave Boston a three-goal advantage. While that group displayed their resurgence in this series, what came next was even more telling. When the Penguins finally did muster a goal late in the first, it appeared the Pittsburgh had finally found a way to respond. Yet, even with a two-goal lead, the Bruins forwards refused to quit.
When Marc-Andre Fleury came in relief of Thomas Vokun after the Bruins scored their third first period goal, Pittsburgh thought they were changing the dynamic of the game. Instead Brad Marchand once again fought his way down the left wing and fired a shot over the shoulder of an ice-cold Fleury.
With a four to one lead, the Bruins could have easily packed it in defensively just as they had in game one, but after a scoreless second period, the Bruins added two more goals in the third, thus completing a blowout of what should be formerly known as the league’s most talented team.
After last night, the Bruins have become a team that is virtually unrecognizable from the squad that should have blown a three to one series lead in the first round. In their place is a team full of players who have been disciplined enough to do what it takes to win games.
For all of the worry that the Bruins couldn’t keep up with the Penguins high-flying attack, it is the Penguins who have tried to alter their game to fit their opponent.
In game two the Penguins outhit the B’s thirty seven to nineteen. Normally, being outhit is a sign you're getting outmuscled in the corners and intimidated between the blue lines, but the fact that the Pens are trying to beat the Bruins at their own game and failing miserably tells you all that you need to know about the lost state of their players.
Just about everything seems to affect these Penguins. Whether it is soft goals, late hits, grandstanding, or picking fights, Pittsburgh seems to be desperately concerned with how they’re perceived rather than the outcome of the game. Life in the NHL is easy when you’re winning games and are the darling of every media outlet in the hockey world.
Now that the bandwagon has people leaping from the sides like a World War Z trailer, we’re going to see if the Penguins fold the tents and go home early. For a team that has so much talent, and has had so much success, the Penguins don't seem to understand that playoff wins are largely determined by what goes on between the ears.
In the NHL playoffs, goals, loose pucks, blocked shots, and rebounds don’t just take care of themselves. Where the Penguins have waited for the game to come to them, the Bruins have played with a type of precise aggression that has thwarted Pittsburgh at every turn.
Even the Bruins weakest link (the third line of Seguin, Kelly, and Peverley), has been stronger than anything the Penguins have managed to put on the ice. Even though that group has been absent from the score sheet, they have still been committed to playing at a level of play that reflects the attitude of their coach and his style.
The Penguins have the stars, they have the talent, and they have the coaching, but all of that can’t make up for their inability to win difficult playoff games. Boston is a step slower, a star short, and a system that has been derided as too boring. But if dominating games on the road is boring, who needs to be exciting?
When Johnny Boychuck blasted the Bruins sixth goal it failed to have any impact on any of the Pens fans that stuck around to fill what was left of a morbid arena. If the Penguins can’t find any life in time for Wednesday’s game, then expect the Bruins to continue wipe up what ever is left of the Penguins off of the ice in game three.
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