The final four is now down to the final three, as the Boston Bruins swept away the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals to become the first team to book their ticket to the big dance. Yes, you read that correctly: The Boston Bruins SWEPT the Pittsburgh Penguins. Raise your hand if you saw that coming when this series kicked off?
The hard-hitting physical Bruins proved to be too much for the Penguins to handle, as they easily disposed of the Pens in four games.
Tuukka Rask came up big for the Bruins. Rask continually frustrated the Penguins elite forwards allowing just 2 goals in 4 games. But
most importantly he kept Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the score sheet, which proved to be the Penguins demise. Rask got inside the head of Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins offence, once that happened it was game over. He stood tall posting 2 shutouts and an unreal Goals Against Average of .50, stopping 148 of 150 shots in the series.
Tuukka Rask has lived in the shadows of Tim Thomas for the last 2 seasons. With Thomas gone the time for Rask to step up was now. I wasn’t all that impressed with his play in the first two rounds but he proved in round three that he truly is an elite goaltender capable of leading a team to a Stanley Cup.
Are the Penguins as good as everyone believes they are?
When you have the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and Kris Kunitz there is no way the Penguins should be falling short of the Stanley Cup Finals. But following back-to-back first round eliminations; the Penguins are once again going home disappointed after a sweep in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins had a rough ride in the first round against the New York Islanders; everyone chalked that up as a small speed bump on their way to the Finals. Their second round went a little easier, but they still didn’t look like the Penguins everyone has come to know and love; or hate depending on what side of the puck you’re on.
Then we get to the Conference finals. The talented and skilled Penguins against the physical and hard-hitting Bruins. This had all the potential to be a fantastic series, as two of the top teams in the East battled it out for a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals. But the Penguins didn’t even put up a fight. The group of players listed above combined for 0 points in round 3. Rask wasn’t perfect every game; one of Crosby, Malkin or Neal should have been able to beat him at least once in this series. When the Penguins needed leadership they didn’t get it and it cost them the series. Of all the veterans in their locker-room not one of them stepped up and that’s cause for concern.
Boston Bruins hockey proves deadly again.
The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers play a similar style of hockey. They both believe in hard-hitting, physical games that work best when the opponent is off their game. The Flyers were able to frustrate the Penguins in last year’s playoffs and this year the big bad Bruins made the Penguins look silly. When you look at the talent on the Penguins and Bruins, the Penguins clearly have the upper hand. The Bruins didn’t let that talent threaten them and just stuck to their game plan.
They hit the Penguins every chance they got and gave their stars little to no room to make the fancy plays the Penguins offence is known for. As a result the Penguins couldn’t score and ended up frustrated more often than not. You saw Brad Marchand in particular get under the Penguins skin and saw emotion and frustration from Malkin and Crosby.
Coming into the playoffs who would have thought that the Toronto Maple Leafs would prove to be the Boston Bruins toughest competition in the East? The Bruins manhandled the East picking up steam each round, becoming tougher and tougher to play against. The Bruins are on a high as a team right now. Their lines are jelling, Rask is solid between the pipes and they soundly defeated the Penguins; is there a team that can shoot the Bruins down from the West? The Bruins are appearing to be a much better team than anyone thought and are perhaps one of the most underrated teams in the NHL.