Lunch Bucket Special: Bruins Toast Penguins
Could it be that the compressed 2013 season set up the Boston Bruins for success?
If so, it took virtually the entire schedule to put everything in place.
It also took a rude awakening by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.
Whatever the means, Boston's total-roster backchek approach has advanced their cause to the Stanley Cup finals. Their 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins completed a surprising four-game sweep over a high-octane, top-seeded foe.
Given that the Bruins' heritage of extreme physicality may be second only to the Philadelphia Flyers, they have a way of making defense-first hockey entertaining in much the same way a demolition derby is entertaining.
Coach Claude Julien's no-stars philosophy ultimately got him run out of Montréal and ironically didn't mesh with the ultimate defense-first team -- New Jersey -- where Lou Lamoriello booted him with three games remaining in the season and a playoff berth assured. But Julien has found a home in blue-collar Boston, where he's now the longest-serving coach in the Eastern Conference.
Julien's approach puts a deserving spotlight on Patrice Bergeron, a Selke Award mainstay with the ability to post play-of-the-day performances on a constant basis. Ask the Maple Leafs. He didn't single-handedly keep luminants like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin off the scoresheet, but Crosby had a closer relationship with him than with his own shadow throughout the entire series.
All of which gave the poster boy for no-stars, unheralded defenseman Adam McQuaid, another rare moment of glory as he roofed the goal that sent the B's to the finals.
The constant grind of game clusters necessitated by the lockout gave the Bruins an opportunity to hone their all-for-one defensive effort, but it seemed to take a toll on them as the playoffs neared and tragedy engulfed New England. But whatever will it is that wells up inside Stanley Cup hopefuls erupted when the first playoff puck hit the ice.
Momentarily chastened by Toronto, Boston rediscovered its mojo to surge through the New York Rangers and now the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins may have been out-starred by those squads, but they were never out worked. And with the netminding they're getting from Tuukka Rask, who has been phenomenal, everything has come together at the right time.
Well, at least at the right time to make the Stanley Cup finals, which is a compressed season in itself. The Bruins discovered that in 2010 when they raised the Cup and confirmed to themselves that Julien's system works in such a crucible.
So here they are again, after a season that seemed to prepare them perfectly for the occasion. They'll be ready.