The Bruins faced a Vancouver team that entered the Stanley Cup Final with a power play converting 28.3 percent of its chances in the playoffs, which was even better than its league-leading 24.3 percent success rate in the regular season. On the road, the Canucks had scored 12 goals on 30 chances, a 40 percent conversion rate.
But the Bruins held Vancouver to just two goals on 33 chances, including one on 20 opportunities in the three games in Boston. With three shorthanded goals in the series, the Bruins' penalty kill actually outscored Vancouver's power play, with Patrice Bergeron's goal while a man down breaking open Boston's decisive 4-0 win in Game 7.
"Our penalty kill did a phenomenal job all playoffs," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said after that win. "Our best penalty killer was Timmy Thomas, and for Bergy to score that shortie, that kind of put the nail in the coffin was awesome."
Conn Smythe winner Thomas was a big part of shutting down Vancouver's power play, but even with Thomas behind them, the Bruins' penalty kill endured stretches of mediocre play throughout the year. It was a Jekyll and Hyde performance that saw the Bruins rattle off runs like the start of the season when they allowed just three goals on 42 chances in the first 11 games, followed by eight goals on 38 opportunities over the next 11.
It see-sawed that way throughout the season, hitting a low point with five power-play goals on 15 chances in a three-game span in early March, with the Bruins losing all three of those games to Montreal, Buffalo and the Islanders. Boston bounced back with just five more power-play goals against on 43 chances in the final 14 games of the regular season, but the playoffs still witness occasional lapses.
Montreal scored six goals on the power play in the opening round, including the Canadiens' only two goals in a 2-1 win in Game 6, while the Lightning also forced a Game 7 in the conference final with three power-play goals in Game 6.
For a team that prides itself on its defensive effort and attention to detail, that kind of inconsistency was unacceptable, especially just one year after finishing third in the league on the penalty kill at 86.4 percent. This past season they were 16th at 82.6 percent.
What will this year bring? Will the Bruins be able to get back to making the PK one of the strengths of the team on a regular basis?
There are reasons for optimism. Assuming restricted free agent Brad Marchand, who was third in the league with five shorthanded goals, finally gets a new deal done, the Bruins will have all of their penalty killers back from last year. That continuity should help create some more consistency, as some of last season's struggles can be attributed to the time it took to forge some chemistry in the new pairings with Steve Begin and Dennis Wideman gone from the previous year, Marco Sturm, Blake Wheeler, Matt Hunwick and Mark Stuart traded away during the season and Daniel Paille a healthy scratch for much of the early going.
The only players not returning this year are Tomas Kaberle, Shane Hnidy, Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi. Of those departing players, only Recchi saw any significant shorthanded time, and even his role on the PK was dramatically reduced last year. He averaged 43 seconds a game shorthanded in the regular season and just nine seconds in the playoffs.
That was largely because the Bruins had so many options to use up front on the PK, especially after Kelly and Rich Peverley were added at the trade deadline. They joined Bergeron, Marchand, Paille and Gregory Campbell in the regular rotation on the PK, allowing Recchi and David Krejci, who went from averaging 1:13 a game shorthanded in the regular season to just 16 seconds in the playoffs, to focus more on their offense and stay fresher for their even-strength shifts.
This year, the Bruins will benefit from having Kelly and Peverley in the fold for the full season, and could be further reinforced by rookie Jordan Caron. The youngster proved capable in that role in his brief time with the big club last year, averaging 2:13 of shorthanded ice time in his 23 games in Boston, the highest average of any Bruins forward.
The defense will also have more options with Joe Corvo replacing Kaberle. While Kaberle rarely saw the ice while shorthanded (17 seconds a game during the regular season, 7 seconds in playoffs), Corvo was a mainstay on the Carolina penalty kill, averaging 2:42 a game. He'll help ease the burden on Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who were logging 3:36 and 3:22 on the PK in the postseason, respectively.
The Bruins showed in the spurts during the regular season and for the bulk of the playoffs how good their penalty kill can be. Having a strong shorthanded unit was vital to keeping Boston on a somewhat even playing field on special teams with the way its own power play struggled so mightily in the postseason.
"Our penalty kill has been really, really good for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "That's really helped us survive as far as the power play struggling. When you're power play struggles, your penalty kill has to do a really good job in order to at least even things out. They've done a great job at that."
The Bruins didn't do anything fancy to shut down the Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning and Canucks when needed. It wasn't about implementing any intricate tactics or devising special systems. It was all about hard work and effort.
"Well, we're doing the right thing obviously," Julien said during the Final. "I think we've done a pretty good job of getting in the shooting lanes. We've done a pretty good job of taking away the passing lanes. That's not giving away any secrets. It's what penalty kills have to do. Our guys have done a pretty good job of sacrificing themselves, blocking shots. … It's about sacrifice. More than anything else, our penalty kill has taken a lot of pride in these playoffs to be very, very good, and has been."
Now they just have to make that same kind of commitment in the upcoming season to help put themselves in the best possible position to have the chance to do it all over again next postseason.
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.
Friday, August 5: Will the Bruins' tough late-season schedule affect their chances at another long playoff run?
Sunday, August 7: Will a healthy Milan Lucic build off his breakthrough 30-goal campaign after an injury-filled postseason?
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