The Boston Bruins are just one more win away from upsetting the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and booking their ticket to the Stanley Cup finals.
It's certainly been a shocking series thus far. After the Penguins dominated the regular season with a 36-12 record and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they were expected to roll through the Eastern Conference field.
Apparently the Bruins didn't get the memo.
After beating the fifth-seed Toronoto Maple Leafs, Boston easily handled the sixth-seeded New York Rangers in five games to earn a shot at hockey's most-hyped team. To this point, they've taken advantage—opening up a 3-0 lead and creating the opportunity to complete the sweep in Game 4.
With the Penguins one game away from another disappointing playoff finish and the Bruins looking to make a huge statement, there's plenty of intrigue surrounding this one.
Here are the key questions that will define the game once the puck hits the ice.
Can Tuukka Rask Be Beaten?
There's few things that will lead to success in the playoffs quite like a hot goalie and the Bruins certainly have that in Rask. He's been a huge reason that the Bruins are up 3-0.
The Finnish netminder set the tone for the entire series with his brilliant 29-save shutout performance in Game 1, and has only allowed a goal apiece in Games 2 and 3. This excellent stand that the NHL tweeted is a perfect example of the kind of work he's been doing:
The Penguins haven't been at their best, but they can't blame Game 3's loss on a lack of shots. Rask was challenged often, but stonewalled the Penguins on 52 attempts.
Even if the Penguins can get some good looks, beating Rask is going to be a tall order.
Will Sidney Crosby Go Down Quietly?
Sidney Crosby may be among the most popular names in hockey, but these Eastern Conference finals haven't done much to help his reputation.
After entering the series tied for the most goals in the playoffs at seven, Crosby has yet to find the net against the Bruins. While some of that can be attributed to Boston's lockdown defense and Rask's unbelievable play thus far, he's going to be held to a higher standard.
The Penguins have a litany of offensive threats on the roster, but none have really stepped up to give them a chance. If Crosby is held scoreless and doesn't even get himself in the assist column in a losing effort, he's going to have a lot of image repair to do.
Will the Penguins Find Some Defense?
Despite scoring just two goals all series, the Penguins issue really isn't offensive. As evidenced by their 50+ shots in Game 3, they have been a victim of stellar goaltending from Rask.
The real problem for the Penguins has been a complete lack of defense. Including a six-goal game in Game 2, Pittsburgh has allowed 11 goals in three games. The Bruins offense has played well throughout the playoffs, but at some point Pittsburgh has to get physical and help out the defense.
Their current defensive game plan according to James Neal hasn't been working out well:
“Our best defense is putting the puck behind theirs & using our offense, our speed & skill to our ability. Try to wear them down” @jneal_18— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 1, 2013
Outscoring opponents may have worked throughout the regular season, but they'll need to become a defensive team if they are going to try to become one of the few teams to come back from a 3-0 defecit.