After splitting two classic OT games in Chicago, the Bruins came home with a great chance to grab a commanding Stanley Cup Final lead. Thanks to another Tuukka Rask shutout, another game-winning goal from playoff hero Dan Paille, and yet another big goal from Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins are now halfway to their second Cup in three years, as their 2-0 win gave them a 2-1 series lead last night at the Garden.
The Bs once again utilized a strong defensive game plan in limiting the Hawks’ chances, got bodies and sticks in lanes, killed off five power plays, and absolutely dominated at the face-off dot (the Bs won 40 out of 56 faceoffs) to effectively choke the life out of Chicago’s high-flying offense. After a scoreless and choppy first, Paille pickpocketed Dave Bolland early in the second before snapping his fourth of the playoffs past a helpless Corey Crawford. Almost 12 minutes later, the Bruins took advantage of a power play to double the lead when Patrice Bergeron potted a sweet cross-crease Jaromir Jagr feed. And that would be all the Bruins would need.
Rask shut the door on Chicago when they were able to get behind the Bruins’ defense and withstood a game-ending barrage to preserve the shutout. You gotta imagine the Hawks are talking to themselves after managing just one goal in the last two games and without much hope in sight (i.e. Rask will be playing net again next game). The Bruins are just doing a magnificent job of nullifying Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews, limiting them to low-percentage shots and disrupting whatever flow they try to get going. Marian Hossa missed last night’s after being scratched after the Hawks took warm-ups.
The final period was basically the Bruins keeping the Hawks at bay and snuffing out any chances they could muster. More than win a game, the Bs—thanks in large part to Rask—may have planted a seed of doubt in Chicago’s collective brain about their ability to win. Because even when they can get through the Bruins blanketing D, they then need to beat the hottest goalie on the planet. The series is certainly far from over but it’s fair to say that Chicago has their work cut out for them if they’re going to capture their second Cup in four seasons. Game Four is tomorrow night at the Garden.
A few more buds for you Stanley Cup bowl…
*Bergeron’s goal was his seventh of the playoffs to go along with six assists. His seven goals has him tied for third in playoff goals. Two of them are OTGWGs. He was an incredible 24-4 on faceoffs.
*It’s impossible to overstate just how big of a free-agent signing Zdeno Chara was for the Bruins. He gives them a fearsome presence on the backline that alters how other teams (try to) attack the Bs. In fact, he might be the best FA signing in Boston sports history given what his signing eventually led to. He should also serve as a lesson for other teams that need to decide between a high-powered offensive player or a shutdown D.
*Peter Chiarelli is rightfully given ample credit for picking up Nathan Horton and Dennis Seidenberg in separate deals to help solidify their championship roster. But his move four years ago to grab Dan Paille for a third-rounder from Buffalo is also one of his great subtle moves. He took a speedy former 1st rounder and turned him into an excellent penalty killer/valuable bottom six forward that has been a key cog in this year’s run.
*Chicago has gone 122 minutes, 56 seconds without a goal—more than two complete games. This after not being shut-out once in 48 regular season games. Their power play has not scored once in 11 chances.
*I can’t say enough about how tough Horton has been this spring. Despite a painful shoulder injury, the top-line right-winger is second in playoff scoring and tied for third in playoff goals. Rather than relying on heavy slap shots and taking the body, he’s tailored his playoff game to take advantage of his speed and ability to find open spaces. The former Panther definitely raises his game come playoff-time and has been huge for the Bs despite not being 100% healthy.
*Some of the top NHL prospects took in the game last night, including possible #1 overall pick, American Seth Jones. I had a chance to have a quick chat with Jones last night and came away quite impressed. The kid is going to be a hell of a professional and whichever team ends up with him will be pretty lucky.
*Thanks to his stellar play this series, Rask has basically run off with the goalie stats lead. His 14 wins, three shutouts, 1.64, and .946 lead all categories.