Championship Defense Driving Boston Bruins After Knocking out Red Wings

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Championship Defense Driving Boston Bruins After Knocking out Red Wings
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BOSTON — This is what it takes to score a goal against the Boston Bruins.

Niklas Kronwall made a cross-ice pass from the left point to the right face-off circle to the waiting Pavel Datsyuk, who ripped a one-time blast that was stopped by Tuukka Rask.

Justin Abdelkader had the rebound fall right to his stick, allowing him to direct a shot on net as a scrambling Zdeno Chara knocked him to the ice. Again, Rask was able to make the save.

That rebound found the blade of Henrik Zetterberg as Rask slid to get into position at the near-side post. Zetterberg snapped a pin-point shot into the top corner of the net, narrowly avoiding the right shoulder of Rask to bring the Red Wings to within 3-2 late in the third period.

That's what makes beating the Bruins such a daunting task—it's not that their defense is impregnable, but it requires a consistent level of skill and good luck a lot of teams simply don't have. 

The Red Wings scored two goals Saturday afternoon, but it wasn't enough to keep their season alive. The Bruins dispatched the Red Wings 4-2 to win their first-round series in five games to set up a second-round date with their arch rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.

The Bruins suffocated the life out of the Red Wings with a defense that allowed a grand total of six goals in five games.

"They’ve been successful for many years here in the playoffs and they’re a tough, tough, tough team to get into the net against, especially with the lead," said Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, who had zero goals in the series. "So, you know, give them all the credit and we battled hard, but we couldn’t seem to get the puck in the net."

There are so many layers to go through just to get a chance at scoring against the Bruins. It's like being trapped in quicksand with a python made of barbed wire squeezing tighter and tighter.

If you can get through one of the Bruins' disciplined, two-way forward groups that include Selke Trophy finalist Patrice Bergeron, a formidable defense pair that usually features a Norris Trophy winner in Chara is lying in wait. Figure out a way past all that, and all that needs to happen is a shot that eludes a goaltender who could win the Vezina Trophy this season.

All it takes to consistently beat the Bruins is doing that three times in a game, perhaps even four on some nights, then doing that all again in three other games in a series.

It's hard to envision a scenario in which anyone in the Eastern Conference can do that in the next two rounds. And as for the high level of play the Western Conference offers, the Bruins can compete with anyone over there.

"It was great," Rask said of the defensive effort Saturday. "It was great throughout the series. I don’t think we had too many breakdowns. We gave them a few chances but really, really good effort from everybody, but it’s only one series. We’ve got to keep that kind of effort going."

Asked to characterize his own play, Rask said: "Pretty good. Only two goals. [They] didn’t really have a chance."

No, they did not.

Few teams will have a chance against a defense corps that has remained among the best in the NHL—even with top-pairing defenseman Dennis Seidenberg going down for the season with a knee injury in December and Adam McQuaid out since January with a lower-body issue. A lot of that has to do with the way the Bruins' young defensemen have risen to the challenge and excelled with increased minutes and responsibility.

Dougie Hamilton, 20, had an assist on Loui Eriksson's first-period power-play goal that opened the scoring. Torey Krug, 23, delivered a pair of assists in the win and would be a Calder Trophy finalist in many other seasons. Matt Bartkowski, a 25-year-old in his first full NHL season, didn't have a point in 18:44 of ice time, but has been steady throughout the series. Kevan Miller, a 26-year-old rookie, blocked four shots in 20:20 of ice time.

Depth is everything in the postseason, and with Miller and Bartkowski offering steady, tough play and Krug and Hamilton timing their pushes to join the rush without being defensive liabilities, it makes solving the Bruins' back end extremely difficult.

"That's what they learned throughout the season," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the patience of Krug and Hamilton when it comes to seeking offense. "There's times when they did get caught and I've got a lot of clips of that, if you want. That's how they learned. You have to teach along the way. Because they were allowed to do that, sometimes you learn from your mistakes. You get better."

"They're young players. They're getting better all the time. They've learned. That's to their credit."

It's also nice to have the security blanket of Rask in the net. If there's ever a mistake that leads to an odd-man rush or a breakaway, having the best goaltender in the league turning aside grade-A chances is always good for a young defenseman's confidence.

There weren't too many breakdowns in Game 5, but Rask made a save on Justin Abdelkader during overtime of Game 4 that extended the contest and allowed the Bruins to score a few minutes later.

For the series, Rask had a .961 save percentage and suffered his only loss by a 1-0 margin in Game 1.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

"I know when a guy like that has your back when you're playing with the puck, it's confidence," Krug said. "He gives us all the confidence in the world to play in front of him."

This is all without mentioning Chara, who usually logs major minutes in the face of so many young defensemen on the roster, but that was hardly the case Saturday. Chara played just 22:43 and was extremely efficient at both ends of the ice. His power-play goal in the dying moments of the second period gave the Bruins the lead for good, and although he was victimized on Zetterberg's goal, he held the fort in the final minute with the Red Wings pushing for the tie.

Now the 37-year-old Chara will get a week of rejuvenate his aging body before what should be a chippy, physical series with the Canadiens, who had to be hoping the Red Wings would push the Bruins to a sixth of seventh game before the second round.

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"We were pretty solid, but like I’ve always been saying, there is always room to improve and always room to be better and we’ve got to get better for the next round," Chara said. "I think that we handled a lot of situations really well, but we never gave them games that they really outscored us wildly. We kept them pretty much to one or two goals a game. I think that’s the way you want to play in the playoffs, but we can’t be just looking at the numbers.

"We’ve got to keep trying to get better and better."

If the Bruins improve in each successive round, a second Stanley Cup in four years will be in the offing for Boston.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com.

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