BOSTON — The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the Eastern Conference Finals having scored on 28.3 percent of their power plays. Or, to put it another way, they were scoring more than one power-play goal for every four power plays they were awarded.
That’s not bad, right?
So it would obviously be a monumental task for the Bruins to try and slow down that vaunted unit in the conference finals. Through three games, however, the B’s have done just that. The Penguins went 0-for-6 on the power play in Boston’s double-overtime Game 3 win, and Pittsburgh is 0-for-11 on the series. In a very related note, the Bruins are up 3-0 in the series and one win from sending the Pens home for the summer.
So how are the Bruins doing it? At the risk of sounding way too cliché, it’s all coming down to the goaltender right now. Tuukka Rask is on top of his game, and as a result, so too is the Bruins’ penalty kill. Of Rask’s 53 saves Wednesday night, 16 of them came on the penalty kill. Of the 108 saves he’s made in the entire series, 28 of them have come on the PK.
The old adage that your goalie is your best penalty killer, is certainly ringing true right now.
“Goaltending really,” Penguins star Sidney Crosby said when asked why the Pens haven’t been able to get anything going on the power play. “Those are big ones you want to put in, but I think both power plays probably weren?t clicking on all cylinders there, but I think the goalie made some saves, and we generated some good chances.”
Rask has been absolutely fantastic as the last line of defense, but don’t take too much credit from the guys in front of him. The rest of the Bruins’ penalty killers are using active sticks and timely blocked shots to throw the Pittsburgh PP out of rhythm. And while power-play success has a lot to do with talent and creativity, penalty-killing efforts are rooted in hustle, smart play and a willingness to sell yourself out to make the play.
No one exhibited that better in Game 3 than Bruins center Gregory Campbell. The forward provided a shift that won’t be forgotten soon after blocking a Evgeni Malkin slap shot from the point in the second period. Campbell instantly went to the ice before remembering that he still had a job to do. Campbell tried like hell to remain vertical and even almost cleared the zone. It personified the Bruins’ PK efforts, even though it may have come with a price.
“For what he went through, he showed a lot of guts to stay out there and to still try and play,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Obviously it was a pretty serious injury, so that’s just the kind of player he is, and it doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t surprise his teammates, but certainly it shows the character of that player, and that’s why we appreciate having him on our team.”
The Bruins certainly have the recipe for success when it comes to the penalty kill right now. When they’ve needed kills the most, they’ve had the ingredients — timely goaltending, gutsy play and good decision making — at the ready.
“We know the offense they have and the firepower and the plays they make, and you’ve really got to — it’s a five-man unit I should say with Tuukka in net on the ice, on the PK and we were really good to make sure we had our heads on a swivel and we were talking a lot, but definitely the penalty kill was huge tonight.”
Actually, the penalty kill has been huge the entire series.