PITTSBURGH -- One had to wonder, after watching the complete and utter dismantling of the Penguins in front of their white towel-waving fans, what was going through the mind of Jarome Iginla following Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Iginla famously chose the Pittsburgh over Boston at the NHL trade deadline when deciding between the two suitors, and might be in the middle of a “Milk was a bad choice. . .” moment as he watches a series that has looked like men versus boys thus far.
The Bruins used solid, structural defense, aggressive and speedy offense, leak-proof goaltending, and depth up and down their roster to thoroughly humiliate the Penguins in a 6-1 victory. The one-sided win gives Boston a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, and gives the Bruins a chance to close Pittsburgh out at home in four tidy games after outscoring them 9-1 in the first two games.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” said Lucic, when asked what he would have said if somebody had told him the Bruins would be in this situation two games into the series.
“We’re just trying to create opportunities, and bear down when we do get them. It was what was lacking most during the season for us. It has thankfully come at the right time.”
Nobody is expecting that, of course, as it would be surprising if players like Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang continued what’s been the worst postseason performance of their All-Star careers. The Bruins are smart enough to know they’re still waiting to face the best punch from a Penguins group of players that was good enough to win a Cup four years ago.
But the B's also know that they’ve won seven of their last eight playoff games, and have outscored opponents by a 31-11 margin since the third period of Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.
That’s called being on a serious roll.
“We got a lot of confidence coming back and winning that Toronto series, and we gained a lot of momentum off that,” said Lucic. “We’ve been able to keep riding that momentum, and keep pushing harder if we want to go further.
“It’s just the focus of our team. Our mindset got away from us in the Toronto series. We don’t want to take anything for granted, especially against a team like [Pittsburgh] because we know they can come back at any time."
But it’s hard to argue with these kinds of numbers: Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Iginla and James Neal have combined for zero points and an atrocious minus-19 in two games against the Bruins. For the Pens to gain any kind of traction would have to start with back-checking and no longer cheating toward the offensive zone -- something that both Crosby and Malkin have been guilty of in the first two games.
Crosby acted more like an agitating fourth liner in Game 1, and then opened the floodgates with four turnovers in the first two periods of Game 2, including a foolish attempt at a cross-ice pass on a bouncing puck on the very first shift of the game. The puck predictably bounced right to Brad Marchand moving in the opposite direction, and the Penguins were already in a 1-0 hole just 28 seconds into the game.
Crosby chastised himself and his team for being “terrible” afterward. It’s an apt description given. These have been the worst back-to-back playoff games in Crosby’s NHL career.
Boston piled up two more goals against a soft Penguins defense moments later. First Nathan Horton bulled his way to the front of the net, and met little resistance when he knocked in a rebound goal. The whole play was started when Letang made an ill-advised clearing attempt that went right to the stick of Torey Krug at the point. Anybody that’s been watching these playoffs know good things follow when that happens.
But as much the chiding of the Penguins is well-deserved, the confident, dominating run the Bruins are on right now is a credit to them. Crosby and Malkin have been frustrated into quitting during games because Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara have clamped down on them like a pair of Black and Gold vice grips. The Best Player in the World is being shut down by the Best Defensive Forward in the NHL, and the Pens have had zero answers for a structured, well-coached hockey team playing at the height of their game.
A player like Bergeron could probably have another 15-20 points a season and be pumped up with much more hype if he cheated out of the defensive zone like Crosby and Malkin have chronically done in the first two games against Boston. But he plays every zone with an equal amount of responsibility and compete level, and it’s a big reason why the Bruins have the upper hand in the series.
Bruins forwards are also putting on a display of how skilled they are offensively. Behind closed doors, there must have been some eye-rolling and aggravation when everybody was waxing poetic about the greatness of a Penguins team that had accomplished nothing besides racking up goals against the Islanders and Senators in the playoffs.
Forwards like David Krejci, Lucic, Bergeron, Horton and Marchand are elite NHL players and accomplished offensive performers in their own right, and they put up the numbers when it matters during the playoffs. Perhaps fewer questions should have been asked about how the Bruins defense would handle a Pittsburgh offense averaging more than four goals per game during the postseason, and more conversation should have been generated about a flaccid Pittsburgh defense that would have to try to stop Boston’s best offensive players.
Things could all change on a dime if the Penguins are close to as good as everybody thought they were, but we now know that the Bruins are great in their own right.