A rigid defense, a crafty goalie, and offense from the blue line won out again and again and again for the Bruins. On Friday, with another near flawless performance, the Bruins edged the Penguins, 1-0, sweeping the once heavy favorites in their Eastern Conference Finals series.
The Bruins will face the Blackhawks or Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
It was the Bruins’ 14th sweep in the franchise’s history and the team’s first conference final sweep since ushering Washington out of the playoffs in 1990. The shutout was Tuukka Rask’s second of the series and his career in the playoffs. He had 26 saves.
Adam McQuaid, continuing with the team’s streak of offensive minded defensemen, fired a one-timer top shelf in the left corner past Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun for the game-winner, only 5:01 into the third period. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron assisted on the goal, which was one of only a few clean looks for the Bruins.
“It feels good to be able to contribute that way when you don’t normally,” said McQuaid. “But I think you look at so many great efforts we had from guys tonight. The last 10 minutes of the game, guys were all over the ice, doing whatever it took to preserve that goal.”
Bruins defensemen have 35 of the team’s 138 points in the postseason, including 15 of 50 goals.
“Yeah, that’s what you need,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who logged 25:58 ice time. “Contributions from different guys, it’s not always gonna be the same guys. Even we got a lot of offense from guys we rely on. But even in some key situations of different games we got contributions from guys that maybe are not well known for their offense. ”
The series sweep was marked by the Bruins’ tough defense, holding the Penguins to only two goals in four games. While the Penguins seemed intent on creating one-on-one chances, the Bruins’ system of defense squelched many of their opportunities.
“We didn’t expect to hold them to two goals in four games,” said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “I mean they hit a couple of posts, we got a couple of good bounces. Both teams worked hard. It was just a good team effort.”
Said Chara: “We were really trying to play the way they came and not focus on what they were trying to do. We were trying to really play tight defensively, five guys on the ice, not to really open up too much or give them too much room.”
Vokoun, who had 23 saves for the Penguins, fought off clean shots from the Bruins’ Milan Lucic and Torey Krug in the second period. But whatever mastery he had mustered in the first two periods gave away to a dangerous third, with McQuaid scoring, followed by Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Paille nailing the post.
The Bruins led in shots in the third, even after the Penguins pulled Vokoun with a minute remaining that led to a flurry of shots in the waning seconds in an effort to tie the game. That mad dash had a normally even-keeled Rask worried.
“Well, yeah. It’s just a scramble, you know,” Rask said. “You can’t see anything. People are laying down. … You just try to [make] yourself as big as you can.”
Rask now has a .943 save percentage heading into the Stanley Cup Final against either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings. The Blackhawks are up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals.
“He’s playing phenomenal,” Boychuk said. “He gives us a chance to win every night. He’s … Tuukka.”
The Bruins will make their second Stanley Cup appearance in three years. They won in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks.
“It’s very exciting,” Chara said. “We all know it’s not happening every year. For teams to go into the finals – whatever two, three, five years – it takes a lot of hard work. I think we are happy where we are right now. But in a few days we gotta get ready for the final round.”