The last penalty kill, which ended with just 2:05 left in the third period, marked the 26th straight time the Bruins thwarted an opponent’s power play, a remarkable streak even for a team known for its defense. That, of course, has much to do with an anemic effort from a struggling Blackhawks power-play unit.
But it also has much to do with the work done by the Bruins, against Chicago and Pittsburgh, teams brilliant in the offensive end.
“We know they’ve got some great players on that other team,” coach Claude Julien said after the Bruins’ 2-0 win in Game 3 on Monday night, giving them a 2-1 series lead. “Our penalty kill has to be at its best. It really got better as the playoffs went on.
“But we really picked it up against Pittsburgh for the same reasons, same kind of a dangerous power play. It just continues to give us some help in these games.”
Something happens to these Bruins when they go a man down, when they put the other team on the advantage. They seem to become even harder to score on, even more tenacious.
“I think we try to stay compact in our zone,” defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “Once the puck is bobbled, if you see a chance to pressure them, we do that. For the most part, we’ve been doing a good job keeping them to the outside.”
They certainly have. But it might be considered surprising given who isn’t on the ice anymore.
In the wake of Gregory Campbell’s season-ending broken fibula in the Eastern Conference finals, there were questions about the Bruins’ penalty-killing unit. Would the team be as effective? Who would replace those minutes? How would they handle Pittsburgh, and then Chicago?
Boston was down a man, and that could have been a serious problem. The Bruins knew they weren’t going to replace Campbell, but David Krejci has been taking some of those minutes (1:21 of shorthanded time in Game 3).
And yet, the team has been just as strong, just as impenetrable on the penalty kill.
On Monday, the Bruins killed all five penalties they faced — two in the first period, three in the third. The Bruins are now 55 for 62 (88.7 percent) on the PK in the postseason, after ranking fourth in the NHL at 87.1 percent in the regular season.
“We don’t want [penalties] to be a momentum changer against us,” Julien said. “I think killing those has really given our bench a boost.”
Of course, Chicago has struggled on the power play through the postseason, scoring on just 7 of 61 chances. That 11.5 percent conversion rate is much lower than the Blackhawks’ 16.7 percent regular-season mark, which put them 19th in the NHL.
“I thought tonight we had a real good look early, maybe another good look there,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our power play tonight was definitely not good.”
‘For the most part, we’ve been doing a good job keeping them to the outside.’
Credit the Bruins.
“They box you out,” Quenneville said. “They’ve got big bodies. They blocked shots. I think we had some chances to get some pucks through to the net, we didn’t. Our entries weren’t great. That’s something you want to look at.”
They’ll have to turn that around in a hurry for the Blackhawks to regain control of the series. It’s difficult — though not impossible, as demonstrated by the Bruins’ Stanley Cup run in 2011 — to win without capitalizing on the power play.
Ultimately, there’s one crucial reason the penalty kill is working: Tuukka Rask.
The goalie is where penalty-killing units are made, and Rask is playing incredible hockey right now, whether the Bruins are at full strength or shorthanded. As Seidenberg said, “He always seems to make that save. We try to clean up for him to get the rebound or for us to clean it up.”
He has barely faltered so far in this Stanley Cup Final, and that has rendered the Blackhawks’ power play impotent.
“Your best penalty killer needs to be your goaltender,” Chris Kelly said. “He was again tonight.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.