BOSTON — Repeat it all so you know it’s true: The Bruins swept the Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin played the whole series without recording a single point. Pittsburgh never had a lead in any of the games. Implausible as it is, Boston completed an astounding sweep, holding an offensive juggernaut to two goals in almost 14 periods of hockey, capped by a 1-0 win in Game 4.
“Great, great, great, can I say that again?” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic after the game. “It feels great.”
In a series where every inch of space was a struggle and star players were reduced to mush, it was Adam McQuaid, a little-known defenseman, who scored the only goal of the deciding game. Meanwhile, goalie Tuukka Rask turned in another great performance, making 26 saves, including several that came in the frenetic closing seconds as the Penguins fought desperately to tie the score.
In the closing moments, Crosby and Malkin both slid pucks through the crease, but Rask made two stops without his stick. “It’s a scramble,” said Rask after the game. “You can’t see anything and people are laying everywhere. You don’t have a stick. You’re kind of just trying to throw yourself as big as you can and try to stop the puck.”
Some notes from the game:
• The first period was fairly tame. Neither team scored. Both had an ineffective power-play chance and Boston outshot Pittsburgh, 11-9. Crosby had the best scoring chance midway through the period when he split the Boston defense and took a lead pass as he flew into the slot. Unable to get the puck flat before shooting – the ice was choppy all night – Crosby’s shot went right into Rask.
• Pittsburgh took over the play in the second period, outshooting Boston, 11-6, but was still unable to capitalize.The Bruins caught a break early in the second period, when Malkin broke in from the right side and snapped a low shot that Rask kicked away with his right pad. The rebound bounced to struggling defenseman Kris Letang, who had some open net to shoot at from the left face-off dot, but the puck bounced past his stick.
• Boston broke through with the game’s only goal at 5:01 of the third period. McQuaid trailed the play with no Penguin paying him any attention from the time he skated up the ice from his own end. Brad Marchand worked the puck up the left side of the ice with the Bruins facing a momentary manpower disadvantage as they completed a change at the bench. With nowhere to go, Marchand pirouetted back to the blueline, causing Beau Bennett, the Penguins’ forward chasing him, to fall down. McQuaid joined the play and nobody picked him up, so Marchand feathered a pass beyond the reach of Jarome Iginla and caught McQuaid in stride. The defenseman then stepped into the shot and beat Tomas Vokoun just over his right shoulder. “If we got that one goal,” Marchand said, “we thought with Tuukka back there, it would be enough.”
• Brooks Orpik had Pittsburgh’s first chance in a while, a long screen shot that Rask kicked away after reacting late, with nine minutes left in the third. But on the next trip up the ice, Letang kneed Patrice Bergeron, giving Boston the man advantage. On the power play, Jaromir Jagr snapped a shot off the post from the right circle. Then midway through the advantage, Boston’s Nathan Horton evened up the sides by taking a bad holding penalty in the offensive zone. Just as Letang’s penalty ended, Boston’s Daniel Paille swooped in on a shorthanded breakaway and had goalie Vokoun leaning, but shot the puck wide of the net on the stick side.
• Throughout the third period, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma alternated playing Crosby and Malkin together and on separate lines. To no avail.
• The loss was an especially bitter pill for Iginla, who had a choice to come to Boston in a trade and instead picked Pittsburgh. “It doesn’t make it any easier,” he said after the game, “but I’m very fortunate to get the chance to come to Pitt, and you want this opportunity. The Bruins played very well and they’re a very good team. I was fortunate to have that choice.”
• It was also a brutal ending for Crosby, who has fought back gamely from two concussions and a broken jaw, each of which could have slowed him by themselves. Put together, they were severe hurdles. Call him a crybaby all you want, but his list of accomplishments is long and he remains the game’s premier player. Even so, anything less than a championship for a team built to win one feels like a failure. “That’s the expectation, and to come up short definitely doesn’t sit well with anyone,” Crosby said. “Three of the four games, I felt we probably could have come up with wins, but we just missed those big plays where we could get a power-play goal or an overtime goal. In those big moments, we need to come up with big plays, and we didn’t.”
• The Bruins have been up 3-0 20 times in their history and have won 14 of the decisive games. Boston the last team to sweep Pittsburgh, and they did it in the 1979 quarterfinal series. The Penguins have been swept only one other time, in 1972 by the Blackhawks. Sweeps are difficult to achieve. This is just the third of 29 series during the past two years to end in four games.
• Boston was up 3-0 to Philadelphia in 2010, before losing the series. Rask’s numbers reflected the shift. In nine prior playoff games, he was 7-2; with a 2.18 GAA and .928 save percentage. During the final four defeats, they fell to 0-4; 3.59 and .874. His numbers in this series (0.44; .985) were absurd, drawing favorable comparisons to the Conn Smythe Trophy-winnng efforts of Tim Thomas two seasons ago. “I think it’s great,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Timmy did it for us for numerous years. To a certain extent, you hope Tuukka learned from that as well, seized the moment when he had the chance. Although they’re different personalities, both have good personalities, don’t get me wrong, but different personalities. I think a lot of Timmy’s commitment and desire to be the best he could be every night rubbed off on Tuukka.”
And now he has a chance to win the Stanley Cup and earn redemption for Boston’s historic 2010 collapse against Philadelphia.
Do you bet against him and this team?