There is dominance and then there is demolition. Hockey humility prevented the Bruins from saying it. They talked about close games and fortuitous bounces. But the fact is they dismantled the Penguins piece by piece in a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference finals.
This was Edwin Moses winning 107 straight times in the 400-meter hurdles. It may have looked close at times, but it really wasn’t.
Friday’s night’s 1-0 win over Pittsburgh at TD Garden capped one of the more shocking displays of dominance in Boston sports postseason history. Forget the plaudits the Bruins sent Pittsburgh’s way or the fact the final two games were one-goal affairs; this series was as one-sided on its face as a supermarket cardboard cutout.
Just 52 seconds away from being buzzkills with a first-round exit at the hands of the Maple Leafs your Boston Bruins are now a buzzsaw that will be trying to win their second Stanley Cup in three seasons and will enter the chase for Lord Stanley’s cherished chalice as winners of nine of their last 10 postseason games.
“The peaks and valleys of a season sometimes pay off a lot more than people give credit for because you certainly grow from those tough times,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “You learn from those things, and it makes you a better team down the road.”
The Bruins were clearly the best team in this series despite the presence of other-worldly talents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Bruins didn’t have to talk about their dominance of the Penguins. The numbers told the story for them.
The Penguins never led for a nanosecond in the series, trailing for all 275 minutes and 19 seconds. Boston outscored a team that came in averaging 4.27 goals per game in the postseason, 12-2. The two goals allowed set a Bruins record for the fewest allowed in a four-game series. Pittsburgh was 0 for 15 on the power play.
Crosby and Malkin ended the series without a single point to their names, stymied by the Bruins’ suffocating defense and the Wonder Wall that was Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who started and ended the series with shutouts.
How do you explain such utter mastery of an opponent, especially one with a constellation of stars?
“Four lucky games, you know,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “No, we were very prepared for this team. We were very excited. We know we have a very good team in here, and we wanted to make sure we were prepared to play them.
“I think everyone kind of counted us out. We just wanted to make sure everyone came in every night and was focused and did the job. We did get some lucky breaks, some lucky bounces and some other guys stepped up at the right time. It was just a great team effort.”
The Spoked-Believers came to the Garden Friday night anticipating an Eastern Conference coronation. Actor John Krasinski, golfer Keegan Bradley and, with the Red Sox rained out, David Ortiz were among those hoping to see a Boston sports team advance to the championship round in one of the Big Four sports for the 11th time since 2001.
But after two periods there was more uncertainty and anxiety than festiveness and celebration.
The Penguins still had a pulse and the game still didn’t have a goal.
The filigree of fate has a funny design and apparently an allowance for revenge.
Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid broke the stalemate 5:01 into the third when he stepped into a Brad Marchand feed and beat Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun top shelf. It was the 15th goal from a Bruins defenseman in this postseason.
It was the ultimate retribution for McQuaid on the Penguins, after taking a nasty hit from behind from recidivist predator Matt Cooke in Game 1.
“Yeah, it is for sure,” said Marchand. “He’s been very big for us all playoffs. We’re very happy he was OK with that play, and he made an incredible play tonight to get that goal. We’re lucky to have Quaider.”
That goal held up. Pittsburgh’s last chance came off the stick of Jarome Iginla, the man who chose the Penguins over the Bruins at the trade deadline. Iginla’s prayer of a shot was snagged by Rask at the buzzer. The goalie tossed the puck in the air and batted it away with his stick, tossing it aside like he did all of Pittsburgh’s offerings in a 26-save performance.
Rask stopped 134 of 136 shots in the series and ended it the way he began it — with a shutout. The Penguins had gone 96 games without being shutout before the series, Rask did it twice in four games.
Burn those ballots that didn’t have Rask as a Vezina Trophy finalist.
“You know they did have their chances. I think Tuukka was phenomenal through the series,” said McQuaid. “He really was. He made the big saves when we needed him to.”
The Penguins not scoring goals is like the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers running dry.
“We knew if we were going to play an up and down, run and chase game it’s not going to happen,” said David Krejci. “We stuck with the game plan that our coaches gave us before the series . . . We went out there, and we did the job. We shut down the highest-scoring team this year. So, it’s pretty cool. We’re going to enjoy this win tonight and get ready for the Final.”
The Bruins are going back to the Stanley Cup Final and the Penguins are going home to lick their wounds.
What’s luck got to do with that?
The same measure of goals that Pittsburgh scored in this series — very little.