BOSTON -- Nearly 12 hours after the Boston Bruins completed a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli appeared calm and relaxed now that his team is returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three seasons.
After dismissing the top-seeded Penguins, Chiarelli and the Bruins are feeling confident about the way the team is playing. Since their dramatic, come-from-behind overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, the Bruins are 9-1 and have outscored their opponents 33-16 in this stretch heading into the Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, who defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in double overtime Saturday night to seize the Western Conference title with a 4-1 series victory.
"I don't have many complaints," Chiarelli said Saturday afternoon. "From top to bottom, we've been rolling. Our breakout has been relatively seamless; I think our neutral zone forecheck -- there's been tweaks here and there -- has been terrific; our forecheck has been terrific.
The Bruins' defensive game, including goaltender Tuukka Rask, has been solid as well. It was impressive the way Boston limited the Penguins to only two goals in four games, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held scoreless.
"In all three zones we've been really good, defending we've been good, Tuukka's been terrific, we're generating a lot of chances, we're scoring when we have to, we're shutting down when we have to," Chiarelli said. "So, it's hard to complain after the last two series."
Offensively, the Bruins have received contributions from all four lines, especially the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. That trio has combined for 51 points in 16 games, with Krejci leading the way with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points.
Rask is 12-4 with a 1.75 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and two shutouts. Boston's special teams are getting the job done, too. Despite being 7-for-45 on the power play, the Bruins are 45-for-52 on the penalty kill.
With the Cup final looming, everything is working right now for the Bruins. After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers and the Penguins, the Bruins are ready.
During the Bruins' first-round matchup against the Maple Leafs, Boston lacked consistency and it appeared Boston would suffer another early exit from the postseason as it did in 2012 when the Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals.
Against Toronto, the Maple Leafs forced a Game 7 and had a 4-1 lead midway through the third period. The Bruins mounted a historic comeback and scored three goals -- two in a span of 31 seconds with their goalie pulled -- to force overtime and eventually win 5-4.
That was the turning point for the Bruins and they've played extremely well ever since.
"I definitely think it was a driving force going forward," Chiarelli said of the comeback. "I think the fact that we did that certainly catapulted us into our level of play and performance, definitely."
The momentum the Bruins gained from that continues to build. Their character was tested and they responded. Whenever this season ends, the Bruins will always look back at that final flurry in the waning minutes of Game 7 as their decisive moment.
During the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, there have been plenty of comparisons between Rask and former Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Rask's play has been reminiscent of Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Thomas' historic run during the 2011 Cup run.
Rask has been spectacular, and his performance will no doubt earn him a major payday by the Bruins this summer. With the way Rask has played, and especially if he leads the Bruins to another Cup title, Chiarelli will have no issues giving the goaltending what he deserves.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has had to answer the Rask/Thomas comparison question numerous times this spring, so it was Chiarelli's turn Saturday morning.
"Stylistically, they're obviously different," Chiarelli said. "But I think the common denominator is, relatively speaking, is their quietness. So in their own styles they can be quiet and be square and that's what we're seeing in Tuukka right now.
"Sometimes when Tim got into trouble he wouldn't be quiet, he'd be all over the place, and Tuukka in his own way, same thing. They get turned around and stuff like that. He's been square. He's been anticipating well. He hasn't been too far out, but out enough. One of the things I thought he's done terrifically in the last two series is handling the puck. And he's been breaking the forecheck, especially in the New York series."
Rask's ability to make the timely saves has been key for the Bruins.
"He's been terrific, he's been really good. And he's got a level head about him, which is important in the heat of the action," Chiarelli said. "You need top-end goaltending to win this thing and he's been giving us that."
Until the 2013 Stanley Cup final is complete, there will be plenty of talk about the Bruins' success in 2011. After the organization's first title in 39 years, Chiarelli wanted to keep the core of this team intact and he's been able to do that.
"There's a fine line between unfettered loyalty to the players and building a good team," he said. "That's my job to find that line. I'll continue to try and do it. This team has showed a lot of character through this playoff run."