Time for B's to throw caution to the wind

Time for B's to throw caution to the wind
May 31, 2013, 6:00 pm
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The wait for the puck to finally drop in the Bruins vs. Penguins Eastern Conference Finals has given me flashbacks to staring at the Christmas advent calendar as I waited for St. Nick to drop off the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s been that torturous. I’m all set with reliving the Iginla debacle or rehashing how Matt Cooke is Ebola on skates. At this point I just want to see some playoff hockey.  

But after the teams line up and the rubber hits the dot, what I really want to see is for the Bruins to play the type of in-your-face, physical, on-edge-but-not-over-it, hockey that leaves a mental, physical and emotional mark on the Penguins - win or lose.  And what better way to do that than emulate the style of play the Flyers used to send the favored Penguins out of the post season last year. To do anything less is asking for the same embarrassing exit the Penguins just showed to the Ottawa Senators.   

In the seemingly endless buildup to this series I kept hearing one thing over and over that made me crazier than an Amanda Bynes court appearance. The conventional wisdom that the Bruins have to be wary of penalties against the Penguins is utter nonsense. First of all, running around taking stupid penalties is playoff suicide in almost any series. OK, any series except the one you just played against the Rangers. Their power play was about as dangerous as airline utensils and if the Bruins wanted to turn that series into a blood soaked gong show, they probably could have and still won in 6.

What the Bruins couldn’t do against New York and certainly can’t do against the Penguins is play a cautious brand of hockey.  In Game 4 in Madison Square Garden the Rangers first period effort was so listless that you wondered if they had tee times scheduled for the following intermission. And yet, the Bruins showed an uncharacteristic lack of the killer instinct.  Given the Rangers' play and the antics of Derek Dorsett the urge to snuff out a listless team and an annoying pest should have been irresistible.  But afterwards we find out Claude told the B’s not to fight the Rangers and it all began to make sense.  

Fighting, and the physical play that precedes it is what this team feeds and thrives off of. Asking the Bruins not to fight or, telling them to watch out for penalties, not only puts them in a defensive/passive mindset, it robs them of the one advantage they clearly have over the Penguins: physicality.

Take a look at this shift from Claude Giroux during Game 6 of last year’s Penguins Flyers series and tell me if you think the Flyer Captain was worried about taking penalties. Giroux finds Crosby, drills him with a clean punishing check and then dents the mesh half a minute later.

Last year’s Flyers were not a team living in fear of the Penguins power play. Peter Laviolette wasn’t telling his guys to keep their gloves on. They were making sure they hit the Penguins every chance they got and it ultimately lead to a complete Penguins meltdown.  Kris Letang, James Neil and even Jesus Crosby lowered themselves to the Flyers level and got served a big “jam” sandwich by the Bullies from Broad Street.  

Now some might tell you that the only reason the Flyers were successful in beating the Penguins was because Marc Andre Fleury played like he had just hired Peyton Manning’s sports psychologist.

In that series the Flower posted a 4.65 goals against average and an 8.34 save percentage.  If Fleury’s numbers ballooned, Mr. Universe, Ilya Bryzgalov’s stats blew up faster than Aly Raisman at Steak and Shake. Against the Pens, the Flyers' resident astronomer posted a 4.82 GAA and a .860 save percentage. Terrible goaltending was a glaring weakness for both teams.  

When the Bruins face the Penguins Saturday night, the goaltending advantage should be in Boston’s favor. Fleury has already been benched after the Isles made him look like a modern day Vincent Tremblay.  Even taking his replacement Tomas Vokoun’s recent run of excellent play into account, anyone that doesn’t think Rask and Khudobin are a better tandem than Vokoun and Fleury are huffing gravy.

This is why the Bruins need to trust Rask and their penalty killers to keep things in check when they are eventually sent to the box. Let the Bruins PK do their thing and let Lucic, Chara and the Fribble brigade, hammer the Penguins relentlessly. The B’s trademark forecheck is custom built to break down puck movers like Letang and Niskanen.  Force Crosby and Malkin wide and finish them hard.  Malkin, Crosby, Letang and Neal have already missed time due to injury this season so every time a Bruin punishes one of them over a 6- or 7-game series is another chance to eliminate the perceived Penguins skill/scoring edge.

The best case scenario for your Bruins is a spot on impersonation of last year’s Flyers whittles the Penguins to an easily disposable nub and clears a path to the finals. The worst case scenario playing this style is the Bruins lose a series that reminds everyone watching of the old school cold war acronym M.A.D.  Mutually Assured Destruction.  The Penguins might move on, but in no condition to contend with their Western Conference opponent.  

The Bruins are eight wins away from another duck boat parade and getting those next four wins might be their toughest task.  To do so, they can’t be burdened with the fear of the officials' whistle. They simply need to play with the menace and physicality that’s been the hallmark of playoff hockey for years.  

If the Bruins want to avoid a disappointment akin to getting the Rob the Robot/Gyromite NES from Santa, they’ll need to make sure that when the series is over, win or lose, Super Mario’s team is damaged goods.