BOSTON — “Well, I guess they’re a lock, right?”
Those were the sarcastic words of Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli just a little more than two months ago. The bewildered GM, sitting in front of the assembled Boston media and looking like he needed a pot a coffee or 12, had just finished explaining how his team lost out on the chance to acquire Jarome Iginla from Calgary.
Instead of joining Boston, Iginla opted to join forces with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team loaded with star power, surely a virtual lock to win the Stanley Cup.
The funny thing about team sports, particularly hockey, is that having the most All-Stars doesn’t always equal success at the highest level. For proof of that, just ask the Penguins. The Pens, despite their all-world pedigree, were swept out of the playoffs Friday night by the Bruins, as the B’s held on for a 1-0 win and sweep of the Eastern Conference finals.
It was a classic case of one team buying into and executing the team-first mentality of hockey, and enforcing its will on the other. The Bruins are not the more talented team, but they were the better team for four games. The Penguins never had a chance, and because of that, the Bruins are going to their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
The Penguins were the obvious pick to win the series. They came in on a roll, having scored 13 goals in their last two games of the second round against Ottawa. Even those who thought the Bruins could make it a series, very few mind you, saw the B’s taking it in six or seven — but never four.
“A lot of people not talking about us,” Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr said, “but [we’re] not a bad team.”
That quiet confidence aside, however, the Bruins even kind of surprised themselves by sweeping the Penguins.
“No,” Chris Kelly stated flatly when asked if he ever thought the Bruins could sweep the Penguins. “I knew we were playing well, but to win four straight was obviously the goal, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed we’d win four straight with just the way they were playing. They’re a great hockey team.”
Well, they were until they ran into the Bruins, at least.
The Penguins came into the series having scored 4.27 goals per game in these playoffs. They scored just two goals in the entire Eastern Conference finals series. Their power play had converted on 28.3 percent of its chances in the playoffs leading up to the Boston series. In the four losses against the Bruins, the vaunted Pittsburgh power play was a goose egg — 0-for-14. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Iginla and Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang combined for a grand total of zero points.
The Penguins never led at any point in any game during the series.
The pure domination all comes back to two things, really. The Bruins were, in every sense of the word, the better team. Secondly, and just as importantly, that team bought into a defensive-minded attack. The results, in hindsight, are tough to argue with, as the Bruins not only beat but also frustrated the Penguins on the way to another Cup Final.
“It’s a team game,” Jagr said. “This is not All-Star [team] when you pick the best players and go on the ice. It’s a team and about the guys playing on the ice and guys caring about each other in the dressing room. Without that, you don’t have a chance to succeed anywhere.”
It’s so difficult to think that the Bruins really shouldn’t even be in this position. They were mere minutes away from being sent home in the first round by a pesky Toronto team. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be. The Bruins fought back, tied the game and eventually won in overtime. Everything since then looks almost easy by comparison, and it’s helped lay the path for a the trip back to the Final.
“You can tell in the way we’ve been playing since [Game 7] that we were able to create some momentum, and it carried on into the New York series, and it carried on to this series,” Milan Lucic said. “I think once we won that game, we definitely started to believe in what we could accomplish. And here we are.”
Here they are, back in the Stanley Cup Final. So much for that lock.