BOSTON, MA – Everything starts with defense for the Boston Bruins. That commitment to the defense-first mentality set forth by Head Coach Claude Julien has the B’s two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup.
In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh – the league’s highest scoring team – the Bruins held the high-powered Penguins to just two goals in a four-game sweep. Penguins’ stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jarome Iginla were all held without a point.
The lockdown defense has carried over to the Stanley Cup Final. In Game One, the Bruins got away from their system, surrendering a pair of two-goal leads in an eventual 4-3 triple overtime loss to the Blackhawks. And in the first period of Game Two they allowed Chicago to outshoot them, 19-4. If it were not for a stellar showing from Tuukka Rask, they may have been down more than just 1-0.
But over the last six periods (the final two of regulation and overtime in Game Two, and all of Game Three) the Bruins have kept the Blackhawks off the board. A huge part of that has been Rask, who has allowed just seven goals in his last seven games. Though the Bruins’ smothering of the Blackhawks, especially in Game Three, has been key.
“All it is, is awareness, knowing if you're going to give yourself a chance to win, you've got to try to slow down that offense,” said Julien, who met with the media at TD Garden on Tuesday morning. “Our guys have committed to that. That doesn't mean we haven't provided any offense because the scoring chances are there, but there's a great commitment to that right now.
“That's what we did two years ago [during the Stanley Cup run], that's what we've done so far. And that's what we've got to continue to do if we expect to continue to win.”
The dedication to defense has not only been on the back end or in goal. The forwards, led by Selke Award runner-up Patrice Bergeron, have been important in limiting Chicago’s scoring opportunities.
“It takes everybody. It’s not only the defensemen, the forwards come back, work hard to get back and pick up guys and make strong plays,” said defenseman Adam McQuaid.
“Well, just the commitment to defense,” said Torey Krug, when asked about how the Bruins have managed to shutdown the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. “Obviously, Tuukka’s doing his job and our big guys like Zee [Zdeno Chara], Seides [Dennis Seidenberg, Fer [Andrew Ference], Johnny [Boychuck] are doing a great job, as well.
“So I think its just the commitment level we have and the preparation we put into it.”
While the Bruins have done a near perfect job keeping stars like Kane and Toews and Crosby and Malkin off the scoresheet, Julien said there is not a focus of shutting down any one player in the game plan.
“I don't think we've targeted anybody that way,” Julien explained. “What we do as a team is we target the other team. What I mean by that is, we have to close the gaps quickly. Anytime a team has a transition game like the Chicago Blackhawks have, great skaters, speed, skill, it's important we close quickly.
“If you just focus on one guy, you're forgetting somebody else. That's the approach we've taken. That's the approach that works best for our hockey club.”
Chicago Head Coach Joel Quenneville praised the Bruins’ all-around game and said his team must find ways to get into the dirty areas to break through and create something offensively.
“You have to commend them. They're a well-balanced team. They defend well. They have offense as well,” Quenneville said of the Bruins. “We have to make sure that just trying to go one side of it, trying to outscore them, doesn't play to anybody's strengths except your opponent's because they counter-punch well.
“But we want to make sure that when we do get our opportunity, whether it's on a power play, whether it's five-on-five, we have to bury our opportunities. We have to score some ugly goals and make sure that it doesn't have to be pretty.”