The Boston Bruins will welcome the winner of the Chicago-L.A. series to the Stanley Cup Final because of their utter dismantling of the Pittsburgh Penguins. In that series, the Bruins were able to stonewall a Pittsburgh team that won 75 percent of its regular season games and led the league in scoring by a healthy clip, with 3.38 goals per game. In their four-game sweep of Pittsburgh, the Bruins gave up only two goals total. And the Penguins had been so good in the playoffs before then, they still lead the league in goals per playoff game, at 3.27. Before the Boston series, the figure had been a full goal per game higher. At that clip, the Pens would've scored 17 goals in a four-game series. But they scored, repeat, two.
Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz both finished in the top seven in points scored during the regular season (Crosby in just 36 games of the 48). Pens right wing Pascal Dupuis, led the league in +/-. Pittsburgh's defense was middle-of-the-pack in the playoffs, but who cared, so long as they were ringing up goals?
Instead, Boston has crushed a third straight opponent. The Bruins aren't just winning, they're traumatizing cities as they go. First it was tantalizing long-suffering Toronto in the first round, choking away a 3-1 series lead, falling behind 4-1 in the third period of Game 7 and then becoming the first team ever to overcome that deficit in that situation (including two goals to tie the game in the final 90 seconds). The Rangers made for much shorter work, sneaking a single overtime win past the Bruins before slinking quietly into the night; head coach John "We Suck And We Suck At A Time When We Can't Suck" Tortorella lost his job days later.
Now, Pittsburgh. Crosby, the face of the franchise if not the league, was shut out in all four games. "The Boston Bruins didn’t just sweep the top-seeded Penguins out of the playoffs with a 1-0 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final," Bruce Arthur wrote. "They extinguished them, erased them, put them in a box and locked it tight." News crews in Pittsburgh went quickly into disaster mode, digging survivors out of the rubble. The local CBS affiliate found a fan who blubbered: "I don’t understand the first two games. I think if they’d have played the first two like the last two, they’d at least have won one." Straws, beware of grasping.
The Bruins have regained the form they carried in 2011, the last time they hoisted the Cup, a steaming path of wasted dreams in their wake. That year their star was Tim Thomas, who set records that year for most shots stopped in one playoffs, most shots stopped in a Stanley Cup Final, and fewest goals allowed (8) during a seven-game Final. Now Thomas is on a hiatus from hockey, and his former backup, Tuukka Rask, has filled his pads stunningly, with a .943 save percentage and a 1.75 goals against average in the playoffs. He took over for the best postseason netminder and, quite conveniently, became the best postseason netminder.
Thomas got to stop so many shots in 2011 because the Bruins were always defying death; aside from a four-game sweep of the Flyers in the second round, all their series went seven games. This Bruins team played seven in the first round, five in the second and now four in the third. They're overwhelming better opponents faster. I would say it couldn't get any worse for Chicago or L.A. — but did you see what happened to the last city that played the Bruins in the Final? Boston, brutal.
Photo credit of Rask in the first round against Toronto: AP