Jaromir Jagr understands what it’s like to play against the 2013 Bruins. In another life, when his hair flowed, his beard was dark, and his legs buzzed at a brisker cadence, Jagr slammed into previous versions: the defense-first Devils in the 1990s and 2000s or Florida in 1996.
For the go-go Jagr, it felt like bashing his head repeatedly into a wall.
“When you go against defense and you know somebody’s chasing you from behind, it’s tough to change speeds,” said the 41-year-old Jagr. “You just come in the trap. That’s the way Boston plays. That’s the way New Jersey plays. I remember in 1996, that’s the way Florida played, and we lost. People said, ‘How could you lose to Florida?’ They did a good job.”
Jagr has since taken healthy glugs at the fountain of youth, which flows with Claude Kool-Aid. Defense rules. Everybody backchecks. Scoring chances take place after forcing turnovers.
So there was Jagr, in the final minute of Game 4, plugging away in the defensive zone when the Penguins pushed their hardest. There was Jagr, banking a puck off the glass to help relieve pressure.
And now there’s Jagr, just four wins away from his third Stanley Cup.
Jagr and the bought-in Bruins submitted another defensive clinic in Game 4 at TD Garden. The Bruins will play either Chicago or Los Angeles. The Blackhawks have a 3-1 series lead over the defending champs.
When the Penguins should have fought the hardest, the Bruins answered with a 1-0 win Friday night to sweep the Pittsburgh powerhouse. When Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and the rest of the high-powered Penguins were thinking offense, Jagr, of all people, was helping to lead the defensive charge.
“With where he is right now in his career, the most important thing is to give us a chance to win,” said coach Claude Julien. “To do that, he has to play in our system so he can be in synch with everybody else. He’s done that.”
The Bruins are freight-training their way to their second Cup in the last three seasons. They are 9-1 in their last 10 postseason games. Their latest accomplishment was brooming a juggernaut that expected to win the Cup. The Penguins didn’t even win a game. They never even held a lead. They scored just two goals in the series. They were blanked in Games 1 and 4. The Bruins might have initiated the dismantling of an Eastern Conference empire.
Crosby: 0-0—0. Malkin: 0-0—0. Letang: 0-0—0. Jarome Iginla, the would-be Bruin, posted zeroes across the board. The final shot of Pittsburgh’s season came off Iginla’s stick. Naturally, Tuukka Rask gloved it, seemingly with a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth.
“Probably not,” Patrice Bergeron, Crosby’s shadow for the entire series, said when asked of the pre-series possibility of a sweep. “They’re such a great team, especially offensively with all the guys they have. Obviously we’re very happy with the way we played. It wasn’t just one guy. It was the whole team from top to bottom.”
The only offensive sequence that mattered took place in the third period. Brad Marchand was at the end of the shift.
But instead of changing, Marchand sprinted over the offensive blue line with the puck. Marchand read that the Penguins were back in defensive formation and giving him nothing.
So like Marchand did repeatedly in the previous series, the left wing stomped on the brakes, curled back, and looked for support. Adam McQuaid provided it.
McQuaid, who had rolled over the boards, cruised into the offensive zone. After taking a pass from Marchand, McQuaid ripped the puck over Tomas Vokoun at 5:01 of the third.
“I knew a couple of guys were coming off the bench,” Marchand said. “I wanted to test the defensemen there. I didn’t have a whole lot. So I just turned up and hit Quaider.”
The rest of the game, like the majority of the series, was about defense. The star was Rask.
The netminder turned back 26 shots for his second shutout of the Eastern Conference final.
But unlike previous games, Rask didn’t have to pull out any 10-bell saves. Rask made the first stop. His teammates made sure the second and third attempts never took place.
Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg did their usual shutdown work against Malkin, Neal, and Matt Cooke. Malkin had just one shot. The Bruins attacked the Penguins with multiple tiers of defensive resistance. Forwards backchecked ferociously. They steered the Penguins into high-congestion areas. The defensemen kept tight gaps. When they needed to step up, they closed off space quickly.
“Pretty proud,” Seidenberg said of throttling Pittsburgh’s offense. “It just shows what team defense can do against such a high-scoring skilled offense. We really did stick together. We defended them in layers. It just seemed they had a tough time against us, even though they had a lot of chances.”
Crosby had more space than Malkin. Crosby landed four shots. But with Marchand, Bergeron, and Jagr in his face the entire night, along with the defensive tandem of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk, Crosby couldn’t generate a regular rhythm with linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
“I think we respected the game plan the coaches gave us before the series,” said David Krejci. “Every single guy, all four lines, the whole D, and Tuukks played great as well. It was a great effort by everybody. We take pride in our defensive game. To sweep a team like that, the highest-scoring team in the league this year, it’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Iginla, who could have been a Bruin, is going golfing. Jagr, the Bruins’ Plan B, is going on to the Cup Final. Old Man Jags is fine with that.
“I feel like a 70-year-old guy trying to be alive and give thanks for every day he can live on this earth,” Jagr said. “That’s me and hockey. I appreciate every day I can play. That’s the way it is.”