2013 Stanley Cup Final: Tracing How Boston Bruins Became a Defensive Fortress

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2013 Stanley Cup Final: Tracing How Boston Bruins Became a Defensive Fortress

The Boston Bruins are not involved in any naming controversy, similar to the one the Washington Redskins are facing.

There is nothing offensive about the name "Bruins," and there is no call to change the name of the team that founder Charles F. Adams' secretary bestowed on the franchise in 1924, its first year of competition in the NHL.

However, if Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs ever did want to change the name of his franchise, perhaps he would call his team the "Anacondas."

There are no constricting snakes that are native to New England, but the Bruins grab hold of their opponents and squeeze the life out of them. There appears to be no escape once a team is in their clutches.

The Bruins have long had a reputation as a strong defensive team. Just two years ago, they won the Stanley Cup with a dramatic run that included seven-game victories over the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Vancouver Canucks.

The defense was often sparkling two years ago, and goaltender Tim Thomas anchored that effort and brought home the Vezina Trophy.

The Bruins were strong on the defensive end during the regular season this year, giving up an average of 2.21 goals per game. They ranked third in that category, behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators.

As good as they were in the 2011 postseason and as solid as they were in the 2013 regular season, the Bruins' performance during this postseason has been dramatically better. They have been a fortress on defense, nearly impenetrable. They are allowing 1.84 goals per game during the postseason. They gave up 2.12 goals a game during their 2011 Stanley Cup run.

Goalie Tuukka Rask has been brilliant in his positioning and movements, but he is far from a one-man show. He benefits from playing in front of a responsible and dedicated team of defenders.

Much of the credit must go to Zdeno Chara, the 6'9" behemoth who imposes his will on a nightly basis. Chara has the skill, stamina, will and strength to dominate opponents. He punishes them with his hitting and also sets the tone for his teammates. He has a plus-13 rating in the postseason and has been credited with 61 hits.

Chara's primary defensive partner, Dennis Seidenberg, is nearly as good. He is perhaps the most underrated defenseman in the league. Seidenberg is tough and physical (40 hits, 49 blocked shots) in his own end, and he is skilled at carrying the puck out of his own zone and passing the puck to the Bruins forwards when they cruise through the neutral zone.

The rest of the Bruins defense—comprised of Johnny Boychuk (team-high 63 hits), Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug—are not superstars. But they are nasty, physical, can carry the puck out of the zone and they can all shoot with a purpose.

It doesn't stop there. The forwards are all defensively responsible. Nobody takes that area of the game more seriously than Patrice Bergeron, who makes it a habit to crush opponents' offensive plans every game. David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin follow Bergeron's lead.

With the defensemen and the forwards working in sync to shut down opponents, it gives the Bruins what head coach Claude Julien refers to as a layered approach to defense, as described by Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe. They have improved dramatically as the playoffs have moved forward.

The Bruins defense was not playing scintillating hockey in the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The speed and agility of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul gave the Bruins problems.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Those three combined for nine goals, and they had the Bruins on the brink of elimination until a miracle seventh-game rally that has become a hockey legend.

But after that close call, the Bruins elevated their defensive game into lockdown mode. They punished the New York Rangers in five games, allowing the Blueshirts 10 goals in five games—and just six in the four games the Bruins won.

The Rangers were not an offensive juggernaut, but Rick Nash was certainly capable of causing havoc in the offensive zone. The Bruins held him to one goal.

In the next series, the Bruins reached a defensive level of excellence that has rarely been seen in the NHL. They swept the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference and allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins two goals in four games.

The Penguins were averaging 4.27 goals per game at the start of the series, a figure that would have made offensive juggernauts like the 1980s Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky and the 1990s Penguins with Mario Lemieux proud. By the time the series was over, the Penguins' average was down to 3.27 goals scored each game.

Chara & Co. blanked Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, holding them both to 0-0-0 scoring lines. Crosby, considered the best player in the NHL, was reduced to sniveling about Chara's "rough" play by the time the series was over. The accusation was first tweeted by veteran Toronto Star hockey writer Damien Cox.

 

The Bruins are back to their life-squeezing defensive ways in the Stanley Cup Final. They have not allowed the Chicago Blackhawks a goal since the 11:22 mark of Game 2. After getting blanked 2-0 in Game 3, the Blackhawks have been held without a goal for a span of 122:26.

The crushing defense shows no signs of abating. Unless the Blackhawks figure out a way to break through Julien's "layers of defense," the Bruins will squeeze the life out of the President's Trophy winners.

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