It’s been a common refrain in 2013: these Boston Bruins just don’t seem to have “it”.
Nailing down exactly what “it” is can be tricky business, but “it” was absent as the Bruins coasted through the regular season, “it” was missing through 7 largely uninspiring games vs the Maple Leafs, and “it” wasn’t really necessary over the course of 5 games against the New York Rangers.
But on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, “it” was back, and “it” helped the Boston Bruins gain the first win in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
The last time the Bruins played a team of this caliber in the playoffs, it was 2011, and the opponent was the heavily favored, President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. In that series, the Bruins utilized their dual ability to take the body and get under the skin, effectively diverting Vancouver’s focus and subverting their potent offensive attack.
The payoff, of course, was a Stanley Cup victory and a “win at all irritating costs” reputation for this incarnation of the Boston Bruins.
Conversely, this approach was also taken by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, who parlayed their ability to push Sidney Crosby & Co. off their game into a first round series win over the Penguins.
In Game 1 against the Penguins, this tactic was on full display once again; or, as Bruce Arthur of the National Post wrote, it only makes sense that “Boston would try to treat Pittsburgh the way they once treated Vancouver, or the way Philadelphia treated Pittsburgh last year. It’s a strength.”
The extracurricular activities on Saturday night were no doubt spurred on by Matt Cooke’s hit on Adam McQuaid late in the first, an act perceived as villainous by the Bruins faithful, and one that was no doubt magnified because of the perpetrator. Not to be outdone, Brad Marchand fired back with an equally questionable hit on James Neal, bringing the series to a quick boil.
At the end of the second period, Boston’s 2011 identity seemed to make its return, galvanizing the Bruins en route to the ever important road playoff win. Whether it was Patrice Bergeron dropping the gloves with Evgeni Malkin (only to receive a few late shots once down on the ice), or Tuukka Rask firing off some words towards Crosby (who would retaliate with a light elbow), or Zdeno Chara staring down the Penguins captain while being separated by the officials, the proverbial bear appeared to have been sufficiently poked, and “it” was definitely on for these Bruins.
And rather than get caught up in and flustered by the peripherals, Rask was able to efficiently and at times spectacularly shut the door on the vaunted Penguins attack, David Krejci – the leading scorer in the playoffs – was able to boost his Conn Smythe profile with 2 goals, and Nathan Horton added another to secure the Game 1 victory.
Did You Know? The team winning Game 1 of a Conference Final has won the series 70.4% of the time. #StanleyCup
— NHL (@NHL) June 2, 2013
The big question now is how the Penguins will respond, and if the Bruins can maintain the balance between agitation and execution. While the above stat may seem hopeful, one only has to do a brief scan of Boston’s playoff history to be reminded of the fact that things rarely go as smooth as hoped, and chances are we’re all in for a long roller coaster of a series.
Game 2 goes Monday night in Pittsburgh.
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