BOSTON — The defense-to-offense philosophy has been a mainstay in Bruins hockey since the start of the Claude Julien era. The end-to-end success showed in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as Boston played their system almost perfectly, outscoring Pittsburgh 9-1 in two impressive victories.
“Its been good for us,” Julien said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “I think, when you look at our team, it’s built that way. We take pride in that part of our game, and that part of our game’s also given us the opportunity to be better offensively; turn that puck over quick and then everybody comes back, and then we go back up the ice as a unit. That’s been a big part of our game and when it’s good, it provides us with some good offense.”
Lots of talk out there has been about Pittsburgh’s visible frustrations this series, seen on the ice and heard in the locker room. In the first two games, it was clear that it wasn’t the Bruins’ physical play but rather their defensive system frustrating the Pens. Countless times Bruins forwards rushed back to help defensively, break up chances, and force turnovers that led to golden scoring chances, many of which they buried them.
The Bruins’ style is certainly different than the likes of the Islanders and Senators, and is arguably harder to play against. It showed in the first two games and the Bruins looked to carry that success back to Boston.
The first period of Game 3 was more of the same for the black and gold. While it was a solid first period for Pittsburgh offensively, the Bruins forwards backchecked with high intensity, limiting any opportunities. The Bruins scored the lone goal of the first, when David Krejci slammed the puck off Kris Letang’s skate and into the net.
Nathan Horton broke up a couple Evgeni Malkin chances and did a terrific job continually frustrating the Pittsburgh stars in the initial frame. He’s been an end-to-end force thus far in this series and was in Game 3.
Although the Bruins continued their best Patriots impression with a “bend but don’t break” defense, Pittsburgh finally broke through to tie the game at one. Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference, who were both playing phenomenal to that point, gave Paul Martin far too much space, and the defenseman made them pay as he skated in and delivered the perfect cross-crease pass to Chris Kunitz for the goal.
The Pens had three power plays in the second period, and the Bruins killed them all. Unfortunately, Gregory Campbell, one of Boston’s best defensive forwards, was injured while blocking a vicious Malkin slapshot. The Bruins killed off the penalty with an injured Campbell struggling on the ice, much to the delight of black and gold nation.
“Campbell! Campbell!” chants rained down from TD Garden as momentum turned back in Boston’s favor, and the Bruins outshot the Pens 9-4 following the goal to close out the middle frame.
The penalty kill was a crucial factor throughout Wednesday night’s game, as it gave the Bruins some needed momentum en route to the win.
“Yeah, it was huge,” Bergeron said after the game. “We know the offense they have and the firepower and the plays they make, and you’ve really got to — it’s a five-man unit I should say with Tuukka in net on the ice, on the PK, and we were really good to make sure we had our heads on a swivel and we were talking a lot, but definitely the penalty kill was huge tonight.”
After two scoreless periods in a row, Bergeron continued his postseason heroics, scoring the game-winning-goal 15:19 into the second overtime.
While Rask and the post saved their bacon a couple times, the Bruins still shut out the likes of Malkin and Sidney Crosby in yet another impressive end-to-end effort. If they can keep playing their game at such a high level, this series should be over in no time, and the Bruins will return to the Stanley Cup Final after claiming hockey’s holy grail just two seasons ago.
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