Bruins Made It Look Easy Against Flyers Thanks To Complete Team Approach

BOSTON, MA - MAY 06: Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins celebrates the win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Bruins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Not many people thought the Boston Bruins would be a mere eight wins away from winning the Stanley Cup this season, but the Bruins have hit their stride at exactly the right time in the playoffs.

The Boston Bruins will be without center Patrice Bergeron for at least a week after the forward suffered the second concussion of his career at the hands of Claude Giroux in the first minutes of the third period in Friday night’s 5-1 series-clinching win over the Flyers.

Bergeron’s teammates didn’t know that when they entertained scribes in the locker room after sweeping the Flyers, achieving a measure of redemption following 2010’s historic postseason collapse, in which they failed to win a fourth game after notching a 3-0 series lead over Philadelphia in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. But even without knowing the condition of their assistant captain, there wasn’t much celebrating going on in the Bruins’ locker room.

It’s said that teams want to play their best brand of game when the playoffs come around, but it’s not often that they do. After dropping games one and two of their opening-round series to the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins picked themselves up by the bootstraps and dug in.

Since losing game two of that series, the Bruins have won eight of their last nine games - a mark they never achieved during the 82-game regular season - and most of them in convincing fashion; a 4-2 going-away win over Montreal in Game 3 at the Bell Centre, followed with three overtime wins in Games 4, 5 and 7 to close out the series; a 7-3 drubbing of Philadelphia in game one at the First Wachovia Union (or whatever they’re calling it these days Center) followed by a 3-2 overtime win in which Tim Thomas made 52 saves before returning home to win consecutive 5-1 decisions, each game a more convincing victory than the last.

The Bruins are finally playing their best hockey of the year; finally playing like the team that people expected them to be at the beginning of the season. And they’re doing so for a number of reasons:
  • Defense Playing Offense
Johnny Boychuk’s game-winner at 2:43 of the third period in Friday night’s game wasn’t dumb luck, even if the Flyers practically passed him the puck off the face-off. Boychuk’s was the sixth goal by a Boston defenseman in this postseason - just over 16% of Boston’s goals in the playoffs, compared to 14% in the regular season - and it’s unsurprising that the blueliners have been able to contribute as they have, because the Bruins’ forwards have picked up their defensive intensity, tracking the third man on the rush and getting back into the play defensively.

Boychuk described the ease with which the defense has been able to get into the play of late, saying that "our forwards did a good job backing us up and giving us time to pinch and keep the play alive."
  • Tim Thomas
The Bruins shouldn’t have returned to Boston up 2-0. They should have returned tied, 1-1, but thanks to a 52-save effort from Thomas in Game 2, the Black and Gold were able to keep the pressure on Brian Boucher long enough to pull out an overtime win.

Since Game 2, Thomas has been on his game - the layoff that the Bruins have before the Eastern Conference finals start, while a blessing for Bergeron, may be a concern for Thomas, because you never want a hot goalie resting for long. His lateral movement has been fantastic in close, and his ability to track the puck may well be better than it’s been all season long. It helps that his limited defense corps - Tomas Kaberle is getting short minutes, and with Adam McQuaid injured, coach Claude Julien’s in no rush to play Shane Hnidy a lot - have done a great job in front of him, keeping bodies away from the net and clearing Thomas’ line to see the puck.
  • Return of the First Line
After the Montreal series, Bruins fans were ready to put David Krejci and Milan Lucic’s faces on milk cartons, because they were nowhere to be seen. While Nathan Horton was embracing playoff hockey, scoring OT winners in Games 5 and 7 against Montreal, Krejci was an anchor and Lucic was a ghost.

No more. Krejci continued his domination against the Flyers - the Bruins are 13-0-1 in their last 14 matchups with Philly with Krejci in the lineup - by notching four goals and five assists in the series, including the game-winning goals in each of the first three games. And Lucic showed up in a big way in Game 4, opening the scoring with a power play goal and providing the biggest insurance goal for the Bruins when he made it 3-1 with about five minutes to play in the third period.

Horton may have faded a bit in the series, but all three are going to need to come up huge against Tampa Bay, especially with Patrice Bergeron out for at least games one and two, presumably.
  • The New Guys
The Bruins have scored 16 goals in the third period or later this postseason, and 11 of them have been scored by guys who weren’t on the roster for Game 7 of last year’s Flyers series. For all the talk surrounding the series and all the concern of another collapse, this Bruins team is not the same team that showed up last year - they’re not looking for first-line minutes from Daniel Paille, they’re not relying on Vladimir Sobotka, Trent Whitfield or Byron Bitz to center lines, and perhaps most importantly, they all know their roles and execute them well.

Of the Bruins 37 postseason goals, 22 have been scored by players who weren’t on the roster for game seven - Horton (5) and Gregory Campbell (1) were already vacationing at this time last year; Krejci (5) was injured; Chris Kelly (4) was in Ottawa; Rich Peverley (1) was in Atlanta; and Dennis Seidenberg (1) was injured. And then there’s the real difference-maker. It’s no surprise that Brad Marchand was overlooked in this year’s Calder Trophy voting - after all, he’s listed at 5-9, and that’s a pretty generous listing. But what he doesn’t bring vertically, he brings on the ice. Marchand’s 11 playoff points (five goals, six assists) are second on the team only to Bergeron, and as impressive as his offensive game has been, it’s what he does on the ice that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that’s really helped the Bruins.

His speed and quickness are both remarkably deceptive for somebody his size, and he isn’t  afraid to get into the dirty areas and rough up the opposition. In fact, fearless is probably the best way to describe Marchand’s game - there’s no quit in it, he hasn’t taken a single shift off, and he’s elevated his game when it matters most. It’s been an impressive season for a kid that wasn’t expected to make the team out of training camp, started on the fourth line and wound up working his way up to the second line, playing special teams and drawing penalties with his aggressive approach.

As much as the Bruins lacked chemistry last season because of all the injuries they had, they really missed having somebody who plays like Marchand, irritating the other team, drawing senseless penalties and at the same time creating space and shooting lanes for his teammates.

Like Horton, Krejci and Lucic, Marchand will have to reach back and find another gear with Bergeron out. But he’s done everything he’s been asked to all season and quite a bit more, and there’s little doubt that he’ll rise to the occasion again against Tampa.

Like Marchand, nobody expected the Bruins to be where they are in October - sure, they were picked to win the division by many, even picked to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals by a handful, but nobody saw them playing such a complete game like they have lately. They’ll all need to find another level to win the eight more games they need to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, but a team that spent the past six months trying to find its consistency seems to have finally figured it out.

What’s more, they know that they haven’t accomplished anything yet. They know that the Philadelphia Flyers were a big hurdle that they needed to clear, but their goal is still ahead of them. There was no bubbly flowing in the locker room Friday night, no whooping and hollering, only determined faces and eyes focused ahead. They know they’re eight wins away from making history, and they don’t look like they’re in any mood to slow down until they get there.

And if you’re Tampa Bay, that’s got to be an awfully scary reality.

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