The Bruins took a commanding 3-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Rangers, winning Game 3 at Madison Square Garden 2-1 Tuesday night. Here are three thoughts on why the Bruins are suddenly on the verge of sweeping the Rangers and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the second time in three seasons:
Bruins' fourth line is a third line on most teams. Many fans and NHL media questioned when Bruins coach Claude Julien decided to sit then-rookie Tyler Seguin for Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals in favor of veteran winger Shawn Thornton. But after Thornton went out and played a momentum-changing shift to start that game -- even challenging the Canucks' bench -- and the Bruins went on to win that game convincingly en route to their first Stanley Cup in 39 seasons, there hasn't been much second-guessing.
The trio of Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille has become the best fourth line -- or energy line, as these guys like to be called -- in the NHL. And these three are a major reason the Bruins are in position to sweep the Rangers, who were preseason favorites to win the 2013 Stanley Cup.
This line helped produce Johnny Boychuk's game-winning goal in Game 2 with another high-energy shift that kept the Rangers pinned in their own zone. In Game 3, the line did it again on Boychuk's game-tying goal and then Paille lit the lamp, scoring what proved to be the game winner 16:29 into the third period. This line continues to reward Julien's faith and reward their teammates with another chance to win the Cup.
Rask helps turn momentum again. While he didn't face many shots after the first period or even after the Rangers scored their first goal, Tuukka Rask was a main reason the Bruins were trailing only 1-0 early in the second period. Rask stopped all 11 shots by the Rangers in that opening frame, with many of them coming off odd-man rushes or prime scoring chances in front. The Bruins seemed to be on their heels a bit in the opening frame as they tried to withstand the Rangers' initial surge. But Rask, as he has so many times in the playoffs and the regular season, stemmed the momentum and set up the Bruins for a chance to change the pace of the game. Rask faced only 13 shots in the final two periods, but his first-period performance helped the Bruins find their stride.
Johnny Rocket firing on all cylinders. After scoring just one goal in 44 regular-season games, Boychuk is finding the twine in the playoffs with his rocket shot. After scoring the game winner in Game 2, Boychuk tied Game 3 at one goal apiece 3:10 into the third period and now has two goals in as many games and four in the playoffs.
After Game 2, Boychuk was asked what the difference is in the playoffs and why he's starting to score more. "I'm hitting the net," the rugged defenseman said with a smile. But all kidding aside, Boychuk is reading the play and picking his spots better when he shoots. There's no doubt that, next to Zdeno Chara, he has the hardest shot on the team, but now that shot is smarter and it's paying big dividends for him and the Bruins.