In a series that many expected to go the distance, the Boston Bruins now have a 3-0 stranglehold on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The surprising thing isn't that the Bruins are poised to win the series, but rather the dominant way in which they are doing it. Even when they face the other team's best effort, like they did in Game 3, the character of the Boston Bruins shines through.
Led by Claude Julien, this group of skaters is both talented and hard-working. This kind of combination is an absolute nightmare to play against and it allows them to play whichever style of game they want to. The Bruins can beat you in a hard-hitting slug fest or in a showcase of skill—like this goal from Brad Marchand.
With their 3-0 lead, the Bruins have outscored the Penguins by a cumulative score of 11-2. In seeing that, you'd think there was a serious statistical disparity between the two teams. You would also be wrong.
Through three games, the Penguins have out shot (110-99) and out hit (117-72) Boston. With that being said, the Bruins hold a slight margin in face-off victories (99-95) and penalty minutes (37-48), while clearly "winning" in terms of giveaways (13-28). Both teams are converting on power plays at an abysmal 0 percent.
That leads one to wonder, what is Boston doing that is making such a big difference? I'll give you two reasons, one quantifiable and one not so much. The Bruins are getting vastly superior goaltending, and are showing that elusive, intangible quality that is character.
Tuukka Rask has stopped 108 of the 110 shots that have come his way, highlighted by a 53 save performance in Game 3. That measures out to an absurd .981 SV%. Meanwhile, Penguins goaltenders Vokoun and Fleury have combined for a .888 SV%, stopping 88 of 99 shots.
There's more to it than just Rask playing out of his mind, though. On the one hand, the Bruins are getting quality scoring chances and capitalizing on them. On the other hand, Pittsburgh forwards are forced to the outside by Boston defenders on every zone entry.
This kind of team awareness by the Bruins is the biggest reason for their success. As B/R featured columnist Nicholas Goss aptly stated in his article, perhaps the most shining example of the character of the team was Gregory Campbell's blocked shot on the penalty kill in Game 3. Later, it was revealed that Campbell broke his leg on the play, but he continued to fulfill his role on the PK at the top of the slot area.
Following the blocked shot, the crowd and team seemed to rally against a Pittsburgh team that had seized momentum. In overtime, the Bruins picked up the pace and Patrice Bergeron finally potted the game-winner 15:19 into the second extra session.
After the game, Claude Julien spoke about the character of the team at great length. When asked about the team's response to Pittsburgh's best effort thus far, he said, "I think character is always the word you want to use, a lot of character in that room." The rest of the team echoed the same sentiments.
The Bruins have yet to close out the Penguins, but it feels like a matter of not if, but when. You can sense the togetherness of this group both on and off the ice. Moving forward, they'll certainly miss the contributions of Campbell, but I'd be hard-pressed to envision this team straying from their current path.
Assuming they make it to the finals, can the Western Conference champion do anything to stop this freight train? If I'm a Bruins fan, I'm rooting for the Blackhawks, who play a high-skill game similar to Pittsburgh (albeit with better goaltending). If the Kings can pull the comeback off though, I think we'll all be in for a big treat.