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Bruins sitting pretty vs. Blackhawks

Posted by Adam Kaufman  June 19, 2013 02:28 AM

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Bruins head coach Claude Julien was asked on Tuesday how a team, in the wake of April’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon, can help a city heal.

“Everyone’s looking right now for something to cheer about, to smile about,” he said, before delving into how deeply his team was affected by the bombings.

As many have acknowledged, while another Stanley Cup championship in Boston – a second in just three seasons – would not bring back the lost loved ones or heal those who were brutally wounded on Patriots Day, maybe it would help in some small way.

With their side ahead of Chicago two-games-to-one in their best-of-seven series, Bruins fans may find out in as few as 120 minutes of hard fought hockey (Note: That's permitting we don't see 37 more overtime periods). It would be irresponsible to write off the immensely talented Blackhawks after they finished as the NHL’s top team in the regular season but, you’ve got to admit, the Bruins are sitting pretty entering tonight’s pivotal Game 4.

Consider some recent realities:

• Conn Smythe candidate and Vezina snub Tuukka Rask is playing out of his mind. The free-agent-to-be held one of the game’s most prolific offenses ever in the Penguins to a mere two goals in the conference finals and, if not statistically, he’s been arguably as impressive to the eye versus the Hawks. In his last seven games against the two high-powered squads, the positional mastermind is 6-and-1 – the loss coming in triple-overtime – with three shutouts, an almost non-existent 0.81 goals-against-average, and a .973 save percentage. He’s given up seven goals on 261 shots in 521:12. That’s not good; it’s absurd. Plain and simple, as the games get bigger, he’s getting better. Did I mention Chicago hasn’t scored in 122:26?

• While Rask might be the last line of defense, let’s not forget the job the rest of the team is doing in front of his net. Players have acknowledged that their focus was not where it should have been while they were in the midst of surviving the Maple Leafs in round one. Since then, well, I dare ya to challenge any one of them to a Magic Eye contest. Julien’s system has his Blue Collar Bruins working hard, playing a suffocating defense, committing to the forecheck, and doing a tremendous job closing off gaps to limit the Blackhawks’ speed, odd-man rushes, and highly-popularized transition game. The adage has long been that defense wins titles, and the B’s have bought in.

• The penalty kill is downright deadly, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. The B’s have successfully halted 27 straight power plays to improve to an 88.9 percent success rate in the postseason, while simultaneously making the Hawks’ stars look lost. Despite all their firepower, the Blackhawks can’t muster anything on the man-advantage. The numbers are ugly: 0-for-11 in the series and goal-less in their last 20 chances overall. Shot-blocking has been a big part of the triumph, and the Bruins comfortably lead that category in the series, 75-46.

• Building on all that defensive talk, Blackhawks stars have felt the brunt of the impact. Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith, and the wounded Marian Hossa each entered the series with double-digit point-totals through three rounds. In three games against the Bruins (two for Hossa), the five men have mustered a combined one goal and two assists. Lest we forget Selke Award winner Jonathan Toews, he of a 48-point regular season, who’s been held scoreless. To put it another way, they’ve all been out-scored by the Bruins’ third line.

• That’s right, the third line is contributing. On a hunch, he said, Julien put Dan Paille, Chris Kelly, and Tyler Seguin together and the trio has responded with three goals, four assists and a plus-eight rating in two games. In the prior 16 games, the three totaled three goals, six assists and a minus-10 rating. That unit scored both goals in a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 2, and Paille netted the winner upon his team’s return to Boston. They’re playing with confidence, using their speed, winning puck battles, creating countless scoring opportunities and, most importantly, delivering offensively at a time when everyone but their parents and the guys in that dressing room had given up on them. Well, Paille aside; he was solid on the fourth line before joining his new partners. As Julien joked, if only he’d put them together earlier.

There are also a few historical facts, if you’re one for trends:

• When a Stanley Cup Final set is tied at one, the Game 3 winner has gone on to claim 21 of 25 series.

• Boston’s a perfect 2-0 when leading 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final. In contrast, Chicago is 0-3 when trailing by that same margin.

Again, to declare this series “over” at this stage, as much fun as it’d be, would probably be foolish. In a game of bounces and inches, the Bruins could be the team down 2-1 just as easily as up 3-0. There’s no telling what will happen in the next two-to-four games.

The B’s could endure another sluggish period as they did in Game 2 but, this time, Rask doesn’t stand on his head. Nathan Horton could take one bad hit to the shoulder (or wherever), and suddenly he’s transporting water to the Windy City. Hossa could return with a vengeance after a few days of rest. Zdeno Chara could inflict a domino line of falling bodies in warm-ups. Jaromir Jagr could burst from goal-deprivation. Or, simply ask the Red Wings, who had to win only one contest against the Blackhawks in the second round and instead lost three.

Fortunately, the Bruins know that. Ever since seizing Game 3, they’ve been busy telling anyone who will listen that they’re living in the moment and they’re focused on winning hockey games. They’re not looking ahead, just taking things one day at a time. Best of all, as good as they’ve been, they want us all to know they’re not playing their best, that there are lapses to be cleaned up and areas they can improve upon.

In other words, if any part of you is concerned that folks on Causeway Street are thinking about getting the Duck Boats ready again, don’t be. That’s for the rest of us to worry about. But with the Bruins having won seven straight at home and 11 of 13 since the first round, it’s hard not to feel pretty good, isn't it? They just have to keep playing their game.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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