Bruins toss aside Rangers; have date with Penguins
The standings didn’t reflect it, but anybody paying attention knew the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins were the best two teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
Now we get to see them duke it out for the conference title.
The Bruins are back in the Eastern final for the second time in three years after dispatching the New York Rangers with a 3-1 victory Saturday at TD Garden to win the conference semifinal 4-1.
Boston wound up being the No. 4 seed in the East after some inconsistency in the regular season cost them the chance to win the Northeast Division from the Montreal Canadiens.
The East final has more than its share of good storylines.
Penguins forward Matt Cooke ended the career of former Bruins centre Marc Savard with a hit that changed the NHL rulebook in 2010.
At the trade deadline, Penguins forward Jarome Iginla had a choice to go to the Bruins or the Penguins and spurned the Bruins after the club thought they had a deal done to bring him to Beantown.
“You said it right there, there’s obviously a lot of things you can point toward that can cause a lot of bad blood between the two teams,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who, after an inconsistent regular season, looked like a freight train against the Rangers.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a hard-fought, emotional series. There’s a lot to look forward to.”
The last time the Bruins made it this far was in 2011 when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games and before beating the Vancouver Canucks in the Cup final.
The Bruins spotted the Rangers a goal Saturday and then got second period scores from two sources that made a difference this series: rookie defenceman Torey Krug and Boston’s fourth line.
Krug was promoted from the Bruins’ AHL team in Providence to start the series when veteran Dennis Seidenberg was injured against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. The rookie blueliner scored his fourth goal of the series and third on the power play to tie the game 1-1 at 3:48 of the second period Saturday.
“There was no doubt he was magic for us in this series,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
You want to sum up the difference in the series? One word: depth.
When the Bruins lost Seidenberg, Wade Redden and Andrew Ference on the blueline, they filled their spots with Krug, Matt Bartkowski (who played on the second pairing with Johnny Boychuk) and Dougie Hamilton, who, before he was scratched Saturday to make way for Seidenberg’s return, was partnered with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
When the Rangers lost top four defenceman Anton Stralman in Game 3, they had to dress 39-year-old Roman Hamrlik. On Saturday, the veteran turned over pucks like he was flipping burgers at McDonald’s before Bruins fourth liner Gregory Campbell scored the game-winner, his first of two goals on the night.
The Rangers had broken on top in the first period with a power-play goal by defenceman Dan Girardi. It was just the Rangers’ second goal of the series with the man advantage and their first on the road in 22 tries in these playoffs.
Thornton had a great chance for a playoff Gordie Howe hat trick with nine minutes to go, but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist robbed him with a right pad save.
Thornton had earlier accepted a challenge from Rangers tough guy Derek Dorsett to fight in the first period and it was a particularly nasty tussle and it took the linesman a while to separate the two.
When they got to the penalty box Dorsett stood and chirped Thornton. The Bruins winger, who if you could read lips, responded with something like: “I’ll beat you up all night long.”
That’s pretty much what the Bruins’ fourth line did to the Rangers all series long.