Bruins display closing touch in NHL's Eastern Conference finals
BOSTON — In recent Boston sports history, the Bruins have proven the adage that the fourth win in a playoff series is the hardest to attain.
It took an Eastern Conference final matchup with the top-seeded Penguins to end Boston's closing problems.
On the strength of a goal by defenseman Adam McQuaid and 26 saves by goaltender Tuukka Rask, the Bruins won Game 4 on Friday, 1-0, to finish an improbable sweep of the team that Boston forward Milan Lucic called “the Miami Heat” of the NHL prior to the series because of the Penguins' star power.
The Bruins are heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons, where they'll face Chicago or Los Angeles.
It's difficult to determine what was more improbable from this Bruins team that finished the regular season in a 2-5-2 slump: that they won in a sweep or that they held a team averaging four goals per game in the first two rounds to just two goals in four games.
“This series here against Pittsburgh was not a 4-0 series. I really felt that the breaks went our way this series on a lot of occasions,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “And you just have to look back to right at the end of the game when (Evgeni) Malkin had the open net there and Zdeno (Chara) makes that arm save and those sort of things. They dinged shots off the post, and if those go in it's a different series.
“The unfortunate part of this game is that sometimes, as a team, you don't get the breaks, and you wonder what you have to do. And I think that's where Pittsburgh was a little snake-bitten, and we were the team that was taking advantage of our breaks.”
Adding to the Bruins' defensive numbers, their penalty kill stopped the Penguins' power play, which started the series first in the league, all 15 times. And Rask finished the series with a .985 save percentage.
Seemingly still worn out by the double-overtime thriller from Wednesday, both teams slogged around on some choppy ice through two periods and went into the third with the game scoreless. McQuaid stopped a pass from Brad Marchand and beat goalie Tomas Vokoun with a slap shot inside the left post at 5:01 of the third.
Rask made six saves in the third period, and the Bruins staved off a furious rush by the Penguins in the final minute.
Boston is 3-3 in closeout games this postseason. In the first round of these playoffs, the Bruins jumped to a 3-1 lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Twice the Maple Leafs staved off elimination before the Bruins prevailed in overtime in Game 7. Boston built a 3-0 lead on the New York Rangers in the second round before winning the series in Game 5.
Even when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, they twice failed to clinch a series with a 3-2 lead in Game 6. Of course, they also went on to become the first team to win three Game 7 situations on their way to the championship.
The Bruins' most famous closeout failure was in 2010. With Rask as a rookie in goal, Boston became just the third team in NHL history to lose a 3-0 lead. The Philadelphia Flyers reeled off four consecutive wins in the second round. The Bruins couldn't even hang on to a 3-0 lead in Game 7 of that series.
Matt Kalman is a freelance writer.