As is usually the case when the Bruins prevail in their quintessentially relentless and disciplined way, the traditional three-stars salute does not come close to acknowledging all of the contributors to victory.
Take Monday night, and the Bruins' 2-0 suffocation of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was defenseman Dennis Seidenberg who wore the symbolic Army Ranger jacket after the Bruins managed the first regulation win in this series, claiming a 2-1 lead and bringing them two victories from securing their second Cup in three years.
The honor is bestowed with thought and dignity by teammates and thus is beyond serious question or debate by the media. Yet even to a more than casual observer of hockey, the performance didn't appear to be anything more than a typical Seidenberg game – 25 minutes of ice time, six blocked shots, four hits, and nothing resembling a mental mistake. That's who he is, and what he does on more nights than not.
Oh, sure, it's always nice to see Seidenberg, an admirable player once discarded by the Coyotes and gifted to the Bruins via Florida in March 2010 for a package headlined by the iconic Byron Bitz, get a proper salute.
He's worthy. Like many of the Bruins, he's almost always worthy. But on this night, there might have been worthier.
Here are two, with a semi-copout on the third ...
The first star from this ninth-floor vantage point was Patrice Bergeron, who did so many of those uniquely Patrice Bergeron things that he could have been all three stars unto himself.
He he won 24 of 28 faceoffs, potted the second and final goal off a Jaromir Jagr cross-crease pass that could have come from his 1992 highlight reel, and vaporized Patrick Kane to the point that you wondered if Marian Hossa wasn't the only Blackhawk who was last seen during pregame warmups.
"[Patrice] just makes the right reads all the time,'' said goalie Tuukka Rask, who stopped all 28 shots aimed his way. "Then when there's time to lay down or block a shot, he does that. He does a great job standing on his feet, too, and taking care of those passing lanes. He's got to be one of the best in the league for doing that. I like playing behind him. It's awesome."
Though he was not asked to expound, chances are Rask would throw similar praise Daniel Paille's way these days. The hockey hero of Game 2 – he scored the winning goal in overtime to change the tenor of the series – would be our No. 2 star in Game 3.
Not only did it give the Bruins the often essential first goal, it assuaged any fears and frustrations that they'd regret missed opportunities early in the game, as the Blackhawks did in Game 2.
The TD Garden surface, choppy after a humid June day, took some getting used to. "When you shoot, try to swing your blade on the ice, it feels like sandpaper,'' Seidenberg, not one prone to idle gripes, said after the game.
But while the surface was a nuisance, the venue's patrons provided a jolt. Playing their first home game after splitting a pair in Chicago, the Bruins came out buzzing early behind a roaring crowd, jumping to a 7-2 shots advantage less than five minutes in.
Those early efforts – a backhander by Jagr 4 minutes and 44 seconds in, a stop-on-a-dime rocket by Seguin a minute and a half later – went unrewarded. When Brad Marchand's quick breakaway attempt was thwarted by Crawford, his smashed his stick upon returning to the bench, the splintered blade left behind on the ice, a victim of one too many failed chances.
Paille, thriving on the revamped third line alongside center Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin, made sure there would be no regrets with his fourth goal of the postseason. Less than 12 minutes later, he also contributed indirectly to Bergeron's goal, drawing a tripping penalty on Niklas Hjarlmarsson with hard charge to the net that set up the power play.
The Bruins are 7-0 in the playoffs over the past four seasons when Paille scores, and 3-0 this spring. Not bad for a guy who was such an afterthought as a Buffalo Sabre that he was dealt to the Bruins in October 2009 for a couple of draft picks, the first in-season trade between the rivals in 39 years.
"He plays an honest hockey game,'' said Kelly of Paille, who scored a career-high 19 goals for the Sabres in 2007-08. "I don't think he gets many power-play chances, and [his goals] are hard-working goals. He's got great instincts, shoots the puck well, and skates terrific."
As for that third-star copout ... well, under most circumstances, the stick-tap would go to the goalie who pitched the shutout.
But with Rask, who is using extraordinary poise, positioning, and confidence to somehow trump Tim Thomas's frenzied brilliance of two seasons ago, this is kind of expected now, right?
The Blackhawks rarely challenged him Monday night save for an unrewarded gasp in the final moments. The suffocation was already complete, and a two-goal lead felt like five.
Rask was typically excellent, but otherworldly brilliance was not required on this night. So the goalie can share the third star with Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara and his table-hockey-defenseman reach, and the rest of the defensive corps with whom he is working in such impressive sync.
"It's fun,'' said Seidenberg. "I enjoy playing tough minutes and doing the little things, just like everybody else in this room. We all thrive in tough games."
That's proven true, time and again. And even after saluting the Bruins' particular standouts after another stirring victory, we know this to be true:
It's more than just the Bruins stars who are making the Blackhawks' stars disappear.
It's just about everyone, and if this keeps up for two more games, that Army Ranger jacket will be draped around the Stanley Cup before the Blackhawks know what hit them.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.