BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins closed out the New York Rangers in five games because, simply put, they were the better team. Nobody can argue that point, not even Rangers coach John Tortorella, who admitted it after his team lost 3-1 in Game 5.
But how and why were the Bruins better than the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals? Why are they moving on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference final?
Here are five reasons:
1. Krug is the Rangers' worst nightmare
Freddy Krueger was a fictional serial killer in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series; Torey Krug was a real-life Rangers' killer in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
SOG: 16 | +/-: 3
Krug showed no fear. He made his presence felt in Game 1 with a game-tying goal in the third period. He scored the first goal in Game 2, connected again in Game 4, and scored the game-tying goal in Game 5.
"It's pretty high," Krug said of his confidence. "It's a good feeling out there and the more the coaching staff puts me out on the ice, the better I feel. It's a great feeling when your teammates are coming up to you, patting you on the back."
Tortorella may have stumbled over Krug's name in his post-Game 5 press conference, but he definitely knows who No. 47 in black and gold is now.
"He led the way," Tortorella said. "It's funny how it works as guys come into lineups."
2. Fourth-line fury
As Tortorella tinkered and toyed and shocked the hockey world with his fourth-line combinations, scratching Brad Richards and Arron Asham in favor of Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley, all Bruins coach Claude Julien did was keep sending out his fourth line on a regular shift.
There was no reason for him to stop doing what was obviously working.
Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Thornton were arguably the Bruins' best line in the series. They combined for four goals, including three from Campbell, who scored twice in Game 5. To explain how impressive and important it was for that line to score four goals, consider the fact they scored as many goals as Boston's top-six forwards -- and Campbell outscored them all.
Paille had the game-winner in Game 3 and Campbell did the same in Game 5.
"Like we talk about all the time, we're a team that counts on everybody and just because they're our fourth line doesn't mean that they can't produce," Bruins left wing Milan Lucic said. "They've shown that they're an important part of this hockey club. I think they definitely stepped up the most in this series so they deserve a lot of credit."
3. Tuukka's time
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask had to answer some questions in this series, especially after his team got up 3-0. He did.
Rask's two previous playoff series were memorable -- mostly for the wrong reasons. He couldn't stop the Bruins from being on the wrong end of history against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, when they blew a 3-0 lead and lost in seven games. He nearly helped the Bruins give away a 3-1 lead in the conference quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But Rask was big against the Rangers, especially in Game 5. He made 28 saves, including a huge stop on Ryan Callahan's potential game-tying breakaway with 8:38 left in regulation.
Rask overcame a memorable fall (collapse?) in Game 4, when he tumbled onto his butt and let the Rangers' score a momentum-changing goal in the second period, to be perhaps the Bruins' best player in Game 5. He finished the series with a 2.05 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
"It gives Tuukka the opportunity now to laugh about that goal instead of crying," Julien said. "I think that's pretty important."
4. Power-play pandemonium
Maybe this has everything to do with Krug, but the Bruins’ power play was big against the Rangers. That’s a drastic change from the past, when Boston survived and even won the Stanley Cup in 2011 in spite of its power play.
Boston turned it around against New York with four power-play goals on 12 chances. Krug scored three of the man-advantage goals; Nathan Horton had the other for his only goal of the series.
Boston's power play was 3-for-20 (15 percent) in the first round against the Maple Leafs after finishing the regular season 26th in the NHL at 14.8 percent.
The Rangers finally got their power play going late in the series, but the Bruins still had a 4-2 edge in power-play goals. Considering how close most of the games were, those extra power-play goals were huge for Boston.
5. Consistent Claude
Tortorella was asked in his postgame press conference Saturday what he thought Boston's chances were against Pittsburgh. His answer was telling for how much he respects Julien, whose consistent approach and calm demeanor were precisely what his team needed to see from its coach, especially after coughing up Game 4.
"I think Claude and that staff has done a heck of a job with their club," Tortorella said. "I can't believe some of the people, how they second-guess him. That's a good team. They're very well-coached."
Julien's approach was perfect for this series, especially against a Rangers' team he knew wasn't as deep as the Bruins. He showed faith in the rookie defensemen and let them play their game, but made sure to pair them each with a veteran so they never strayed too far from their comfort zone.
He rolled his four lines as well as any coach could, giving as much responsibility to the fourth line as he did to the top line.
"I'm not a coach that rolls four lines because I want to roll four lines," Julien said. "I roll four lines because I know I've got the depth to roll four lines."
He made sure to use it, and he did so in a strategic, masterful – and winning -- way.