Unlike in 2011, when the Bruins played three seven-game series on their way to winning the Stanley Cup, they have given themselves a breather after a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.
After bouncing back in remarkable fashion during the late stages of Game 7 against Toronto in the first round, the Bruins have made things quite a bit easier on themselves. They took just five games to dispatch the Rangers in the conference semifinals, and although beating the Penguins only looked easy, they’ll now await the Blackhawks for Game 1 of the Cup Final on Wednesday night in Chicago.
General manager Peter Chiarelli said one of the hallmarks of the Bruins is that they have bought into the team-first concept. He was particularly impressed with a comment made by center David Krejci regarding what has made them successful.
“[Krejci said], ‘We don’t have any high-end stars, we have to play as a team and that’s the way that we play,’ ’’ said Chiarelli, who met with the media at TD Garden on Saturday morning. “And I really like that quote. But a consequence of having that kind of team from top to bottom is when you take a piece out, there’s more of a tilt because you rely on each guy, not just one or two. He’s the same way. When he’s not firing, we do have our struggles. He’s playing real well right now.’’
One of the decisions Chiarelli had to make after the Bruins won the Cup in 2011 was which players to keep and which to let go. Chiarelli’s goal was to keep the core together, and he did that.
“There’s a fine line between unfettered loyalty to the players and building a good team,’’ he said. “That’s my job, to find that line, and I’ll continue to try and do it. This team has shown a lot of character in this playoff run, as they did the last time. I’ll try and do it again if I can.’’
The fans, and some media members, made Jarome Iginla’s decision to go to Pittsburgh rather than Boston at the trade deadline a focal point of the Bruins-Penguins series, but Chiarelli said it was never anything on which he dwelled.
“Those types of things happen once in a while, they just don’t become public,’’ said Chiarelli. “In my profession, you learn to turn the page and go to the next thing and move on. It’s satisfying that we won with the group that we had and happy to see the contributions we got from Jaromir [Jagr] and the other players we acquired, but it wasn’t anything extra [because of Iginla]. To beat a team of that caliber the way that we beat them was very satisfying. The challenge will be to keep it going. I haven’t seen a stretch like this for a while, the way that we’re playing.’’
It’s easy to overlook a pivotal moment in the postseason given how the Bruins commanded the series against the Penguins, but the team was on the brink of elimination late in Game 7 against Toronto. But the Bruins rallied to win the game on sheer will, and Chiarelli said that sparked them.
“I definitely think it was a driving force going forward,’’ he said. “I think the fact that we did that certainly catapulted us into our level of play and performance. Definitely, you could see the team pick itself up. Going back to when it happened, you could feel the momentum. In watching the team as often as I have, you could feel the momentum after we scored the second goal. I’ve never seen something like that happen with two empty-net goals like that, but I could feel it coming and I could see the Toronto team see that it was coming, too. Whether it was going to happen or not, as the minutes progressed, I thought, ‘This might happen.’ So that’s a testament to the team.
“It wasn’t really a switch. We had some good games in that series and we had some not-so-good games, but I think it was more of a realization to these guys like, ‘Hey, we’d better get this thing done.’ They waited a little long but certainly it was a boost to their play the rest of the way, without question.’’
Another question mark was whether Tuukka Rask could elevate his game to take over where Tim Thomas left off. So far, he has.
“The common denominator, relatively speaking, is their quietness,’’ said Chiarelli. “In their own styles, they can be quiet and be square, and that’s what we’re seeing with Tuukka right now. Sometimes when Tim got into trouble, he wouldn’t be quiet, he’d be all over the place, and Tuukka in his own way, same thing. He’d be turned around. He’s been square, he’s been anticipating well. He hasn’t been too far out, but out enough. One of the things I thought he’s done terrifically in the last two series is handling the puck. It’s something I know [goaltending coach] Bob Essensa and he have been working on. He’s got a level head about him in the heat of the action and you need top-end goaltending to win this thing, and he’s been giving us that.’’
Back in 2011, there was a lot of hand-wringing about the Bruins’ lack of a power play. This postseason, Boston has converted on 7 of 45 chances (15.6 percent), but none came against the Penguins.
“Statistically, the success generally speaking of power plays as rounds progress, I think it goes down significantly,’’ said Chiarelli. “I’m not trying to diminish its significance. We’ve had trouble the last couple of games with entries and recoveries, but I think as a whole it’s been a lot better. Statistically, it’s been a lot better regardless of the zero we put up. Pitt put up a zero, too. I think our looks have been a lot better. We’re snakebitten a little, you see more plays where we’re spreading it out more. I feel confident in our power play.’’