BEDFORD, Mass. -- At times, it hasn’t the most breathtaking method of play to watch unfold. But then again, nobody’s awarding style points this time of year.
This morning, the Bruins touched down at Hanscom Air Force Base having swept the Penguins on their ice in the first two games, by a 9-1 margin that nobody could have possibly seen coming. The Bruins have jumped out to a 2-0 lead in large part because of their commitment to coach Claude Julien’s defensive system.
“I’m not going to start talking about my whole game plan here, but I think it’s pretty obvious that we have layers,” Julien said. “We have guys that are committed to coming back, and just making sure that there’s layer after layer and making it hard to get to our net.”
In last night’s 6-1 throttling of Pittsburgh, the Bruins were outhit 37-19, but dominated puck possession at both ends. Trying to thread the needle through a jungle of bodies and stick blades, the Penguins saw 15 shot attempts miss the net, and another 16 get blocked by Bruins players -- including a game-high four from Zdeno Chara.
When they weren’t blocking shots, the Bruins were successful in suffocating the Penguins’ puck movement, rotating around the crease and keeping their sticks active in the slot and at the goal line, cutting off passing lanes.
“It’s just responsibility, it’s little details of the game,” said defenseman Andrew Ference, who has been a plus-4 with one point in the series since returning from an injury that caused him to miss eight games. “For some of us, it’s just the way that we play, and then there are some guys who have had to adjust their game and really learn how to make that a priority. It’s nothing fancy, it’s just paying attention to the little details.”
Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin finished a combined minus-3 with no points Monday night, with the typically other-worldly Crosby recording one of the worst playoff performances of his career – four giveaways, two shots and no points in 23:01 of ice time. So far in this series, the two are a combined minus-6, with no points.
One key for the Bruins in this series has been the return of Ference.
In the previous series against the New York Rangers, an injury-depleted defensive core got a spark from a trio of rookies, most notably Torey Krug, who scored four goals in his first five playoff games. Offensive-minded youngsters Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton gave the Bruins some much-needed jump -- but that also meant a shuffling of the defensive pairings.
But with Dennis Seidenberg healthier and Ference back (though still wearing a walking boot -- “I’ve gotta see the doctors this week … it’d be nice to get matching shoes again,” Ference cracked), Julien has been able to go back to his bread-and-butter playoff pairings, with Chara and Seidenberg on the top pairing. Those two have spent the bulk of the series matched up with Pittsburgh’s top line of Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz.
“He’s been really good, great player,” Julien said of Ference. “Obviously you saw it in the first game, he carried the puck up the ice and made a good rush, and we were able to score on that. He defends well, he’s a good battler.
“There’s a lot of things that he brings -- experience, leadership -- and he just stepped in there for a guy that’s been out a while, and he’s come back and he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Not much is likely to change between now and Wednesday night’s Game 3 puck drop at TD Garden. But it’s good to know there is plenty of firepower in the cannon, too.
“We’re extremely pleased, too, with the job the young guys have done – Bartkowski, Hamilton, and obviously Krug is still in our lineup,” Julien said. “But it just means we have a lot of depth. No matter what happens, we’re confident with our group.”