The Salem News
---- — BOSTON — They’ve done it again, completely and unequivocally stolen our sporting hearts, with no plans of letting go until long after they’ve lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup over their heads for the second time in the last three summers.
At least that’s what most of New England hopes is the glorious end result.
Defying all logic, the Boston Bruins swept the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals last night with a 1-0 triumph before a decibel-shattering crowd at the TD Garden.
They’ve now done what few people believed was possible when the postseason began five-and-a-half weeks ago: punched their ticket back to the Cup finals, which will begin in either Chicago (likely) or Los Angeles (longshot) next week.
Could anyone in the Boston locker room have believed they’d sweep the top-seeded, heavily favored Penguins away four straight?
“No, no,” admitted center Chris Kelly in a happy but subdued locker room after the game. “I knew we were playing well (coming in), but to win four straight ... that was obviously the goal, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed that.”
“Well obviously, probably not. They’re such a great team, especially offensively with the guys they have,” added center Patrice Bergeron, his face showing the battle scars of a grueling playoff run. “We’re obviously very happy with the way we played. It wasn’t just about one guy; it was the whole team from top to bottom.”
But they did the unthinkable. And now, still riding the crest of momentum from their miracle comeback against Toronto in Game 7 of the first round, the Bruins will be back playing for hockey’s ultimate prize while looking to equal what has been achieved twice previously in franchise history: win two Cups in three years (1939 + ‘41 and 1970 + ‘72).
“It’s a team game and you have to have all five guys on the ice committed to do their job ... that’s what it’s all about. To have everyone on the same page and to do whatever it takes,” captain Zdeno Chara said.
“Like I’ve been saying, we have pretty much the same team as the year we won, and a lot of guys don’t need to be reminded that every little thing can make a difference.”
When you have everyone from a 41 year old to an 18 year old committed to do things like blocking shots, playing physical, backchecking and so on and son on, the goal is pretty clear.”
To reach the Cup finals, you’ve got to bury your chances, play shutdown D and maybe win a game or two that you probably shouldn’t have. But you also need a little puck luck, and the Bruins have certainly had their fair share during this wild postseason run.
I mean, really, who would’ve guessed that Adam McQuaid, known more for his brawny ways and his mullet, would’ve been the one to break a scoreless tie five minutes into the third period with the game’s only goal, a shot through traffic that beat Penguins netminder Tomas Vokoun over his right shoulder?
I’m not sure what you would’ve gotten the best odds on happening from Vegas: a.) that the Bruins would sweep Pittsburgh in four straight; b.) that they’d hold a squad averaging more than four goals a game in the playoffs — the best such rate in 20 years — to a grand total of 2 goals the entire series; c.) that they’d keep the vaunted Penguins’ power play off the scoresheet completely (0-for-15); or that d.) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang would all finish the ECF with nary a point and a collective rating of minus-24. (I suppose you could add in e.), that offensively challenged defenseman Paul Martin would lead the team in scoring for the series with 2 points, but that’d be piling on).
It is, as one veteran of the press corps said, simply astounding.
“We were very prepared for this team,” left wing Brad Marchand, who finished the series with a team-high 10 penalty minutes, said. “I think everyone counted us out, so we wanted to make sure that everyone came in every night and was focused and did the job. We did get some lucky breaks, some lucky bounces, and other guys stepped up at the right time. It was a great team effort.
“There’s definitely times we can be better. We haven’t really put a full 60-minute effort on the ice ... but we’ve been pretty good.”
During the latter stages of Boston’s 3-0 road victory in Game 1, a good friend of mine with legit hockey credentials (played at Austin Prep, follows the sport religiously, etc.) said while he naturally wanted the Bruins to win the series, he felt that “Pittsburgh (was) the better team, obviously.”
I had to correct him. While it doesn’t take an MIT professor to figure out that the Penguins possessed more stars in their galaxy, the better ‘team’ resided on Causeway Street with a spoked-B on their sweaters, and that team dynamic of staunch defense, opportunistic offense and doing whatever it took for the betterment of the group would ultimately win out.
This team — perhaps this team of destiny — is back to where they hoped they’d be when this shortened season began in January, four wins away from fulfilling their dreams for the second time in three seasons.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.