Bruins bowl over Blackhawks in Game 3
Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara and Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell fight as their teammates pile on during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final at TD Garden in Boston, June 17, 2013. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)
Some NHL teams will tell you that a playoff series doesn't truly begin until both participants have played a game in front of their home crowd.
When the Boston Bruins come home with the Stanley Cup within reach, however, they seek and destroy.
The Eastern Conference champions moved to within two victories of winning the Cup for the second time in three years before a rousing TD Garden crowd Monday night, meeting minimal resistance from the Chicago Blackhawks in a convincing 2-0 win.
They may only be halfway there, but this one is starting to smell like the 2011 final when the Vancouver Canucks took a 2-0 series lead into the same rink and exited with their tails between their legs after being outscored 12-1 in consecutive losses.
Yes, it's just wins two down for the Bruins and two to go, but if the Hawks don't find some offence, an effective power play and a willingness to compete the Bruins way by Game 3 Wednesday night, this one could be over quicker than many expected.
"Yes and no," Bruins winger Tyler Seguin said when asked if the finish line is in view with a 2-1 series lead after one the most impressive games played by either team yet. "Being two games away is going to give you even more motivation but you have to stay calm and confident."
The Bruins were both of those things and more Monday, taking full advantage of the vaunted New England sports fans, who it seems were an even match for those in the Windy City.
Boston set the tempo early, scored in the middle, and went into shutdown mode at the end. A late post by the Hawks was the only real scare as Tuukka Rask continued his brilliant playoff performance, making 28 saves for his third career playoff shutout.
But from penalty killing to back-checking to blocking shots, the Bruins are starting to exert the type of shutdown play they utilized in their stunning sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference final.
"Throughout a whole season, it's not easy to have that full commitment," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the will his team is showing now. "But I think when you get to this stage, players start feeling it.
"They go above and beyond. That's what you're seeing from our team right now."
The result was the first regulation-time win of the series and the first time the Presidents' Trophy winning Hawks have truly looked outclassed.
Dominating in key areas – the faceoff circle and along the boards come most readily to mind in Game 3 – the Bruins are pounding home the same lesson that they did to the Penguins: Attacking with skill isn’t going to be enough.
Another big goal from Daniel Paille, the overtime hero two nights earlier in Chicago, got the Bruins on the board at 2:13 of the second period with the type of gritty play that has made the B's third line so effective. Swiping the puck away from Chicago's Dave Bolland, he snapped it past goaltender Corey Crawford before any Hawks could react.
While the woeful Chicago power play continued to struggle, the Bruins rubbed it in when Patrice Bergeron buried a tape-to-tape pass from Jaromir Jagr at 14:05 of the same period.
The Hawks dropped a shocker when the starting rosters became official and it was learned that Marian Hossa, who had a share of the team's scoring lead, was a scratch. Hossa reportedly injured himself in the pre-game warmup.
But given how the Hawks were outworked and outplayed in so many areas, it would hardly have mattered.
"It's a low-chance game, it's a low-chance series," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's hard to get A-plus chances. You have to manufacture the kind of ugly goals."
The Bruins haven't truly experienced stress in these playoffs since their Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round series that wrapped up more than a month ago. Since falling behind 4-1 in that game, they have surrendered just 17 goals.
With the game and perhaps even the series on the line, the Hawks managed just four shots on net in the first 15 minutes of the third period, and that stretch included yet another woeful power play. The Hawks have slipped to 0-for-10 with the man advantage this series.
Beyond the obvious of what is taking place on the ice, history is starting to mess with the Hawks’ prospects as well. The Bruins are 2-0 lifetime with a lead in the final while the Hawks are 0-3 when down 1-2.
The Hawks, now just 3-5 on the road these playoffs, may not be finished. But the closer the Bruins get to the big prize, the tougher they will become.
And how incredible is this? In their last 13 games – at the most crucial time of the year – the Bruins have not lost in regulation.
"We're playing the best hockey of the season right now," Julien said. "That's what you've got to do to give yourself a chance to win a Stanley Cup."
Translated: Two years ago, is starting to feel, look and smell like yesterday.