RALEIGH, N.C. -- No Zdeno Chara was no problem for the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Thursday.
The Bruins played a stifling brand of defense, limiting the Hurricanes to 11 shots in the final two periods in a 4-0 victory that propelled them to the Stanley Cup Final where they will play either the San Jose Sharks or the St. Louis Blues.
"I really think we played well defensively tonight," defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. "I think we competed hard for every puck and we had the mindset that we were going to win all those battles and stick with what has giving us success, and we were able to do that. Just a selfless effort, guys jumping in lanes to block shots all night, and obviously you have (goalie) Tuukka Rask in net and it goes without saying what he means for us at this point in time.
"What a game, series-clinching game, and it's just crazy to think that we are going to the Stanley Cup Final. This is just a dream come true. It's just another box checked off and another one to go."
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Chara was scratched with an undisclosed injury. The team found out at the morning skate he would be unavailable but is expected to be healthy for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Sharks lead the best-of-7 Western Conference Final 2-1. Game 4 is Friday.
Chara had played 98 straight playoff games for the Bruins. This postseason, he had three points (one goal, two assists) and was a plus-11 in 16 games. More importantly, he is the captain and his experience and consistency were missed.
Yet he made his presence felt even though he was not on the ice.
"He's our leader we want to have with us every step of the way," McAvoy said. "Just because he wasn't out there, he was with us in spirit. He's always with us regardless. We saw his face before the game and he just has that presence and dials everybody in. We all sharpen up a bit when he stands up and we see him."
The rest of the defensemen concentrated on doing the things Chara normally does.
The Bruins blocked 23 shots, one fewer than they allowed the Hurricanes to get on net. Carolina also missed another 15 shots. Each defenseman was a more physical presence than usual in front of the net and in the corners.
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Coach Bruce Cassidy said the keys were their willingness to block shots, particularly from the point, and clear out lanes for the red-hot Rask to see shots. Cassidy did not like the first period, when Carolina had 13 shots and the majority of its Grade-A chances, but he was happy his team could weather the storm while John Moore, Chara's replacement, found his footing in the rotation.
Moore, who had not played since April 23, in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, played 11:48, including a couple of shifts while Boston killed two penalties in the first period.
"We bent in the first," Cassidy said. "Usually if you're defending well it means you're disciplined in your routes and also you have the puck. We managed the puck better. Tonight I thought we did a good job staying out of the box. They're a low-to-high team, their D are a big part of their offense. When it goes low to high we really tried to build on how we're going to cover the three forwards from there, try to block shots and clear-outs so Tuukka could see it. I thought we did a good job with that, for the most part.
"Without Z it was a little more of a challenge, but you've got to give Torey (Krug) and (Matt Grzelcyk) some credit for handling some big bodies in the tough areas."
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Krug played a game-high 27:00 and drew the tough assignments against Carolina's top-6 forwards. Grzelcyk played 16:20. He took two hard hits in the third period, one by Jordan Staal and the other by Sebastian Aho. Each hit sent him to the bench in pain, but each time he returned for his next shift.
Brandon Carlo played 23:28 and moved pucks out of the zone to start transition attacks. Connor Clifton, who played 12:01 in Game 3, played 17:33 Thursday.
As each of the defensemen stepped out of their comfort zone, other Bruins players noticed and drew energy from it.
"Our defense has been huge for us," forward David Backes said. "It's a heck of a unit back there. If things do break down, Tuukka is back there, and I think that gives them the confidence to be on their toes, to smash plays and not give them quality. It's been a great recipe."