One of the biggest stories of the Eastern Conference final, the story you are going to hear a lot about in the upcoming days and perhaps into a summer of questions in Pittsburgh, is the fact that the Penguins were eliminated in a series where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for as many points as you or me. Zero.
Obviously, as the four games in this series demonstrated, that's not the recipe to success in beating the Boston Bruins. The Penguins were a few cups short of almost everything they needed to beat the B's and reach the Stanley Cup Final, especially scoring.
But the problem with that storyline is that the focus will be on the fact that Crosby and Malkin had zero points, not that the Bruins held them to zero points because really, that's what happened. The Bruins defense was its usual self; spectacular.
If you were to use one word to describe the Eastern Conference final, the word that jumps to mind right away is domination. The Bruins dominated the Penguins from the opening faceoff in Pittsburgh for Game 1. Another good word would be suffocating, as in the Bruins defense suffocated the Pens offense. They never gave the Pens a chance to do what they do best; score.
We have seen these Bruins before and these Bruins won the Stanley Cup. They are taking a similar formula to the one that led them to the Cup in Vancouver two years ago, one where they were able to neutralize some potent offenses along the way. At some point it's not about the opposing offense not showing and about what the Bruins are doing. With each passing day they look as good or better than that team that won it all.
The main faces are still there for Boston. Zdeno Chara was, as usual, a great force in Game 4. After Malkin had a whopping 21 shot attempts in the double-OT affair that was Game 3, the Bruins decided to shift their big man to the line of Malkin and James Neal. As a result Malkin and Neal were pretty much non-factors in Game 4.
One of the few differences out there is the man in net. If you recall that run to the Cup for the Bruins, you'll remember Tim Thomas was outstanding, having one of the best postseasons we have ever seen from a goaltender. Believe it or not, Tuukka Rask has been even better.
Get this: In a four-game series with the Penguins, Rask faced 136 shots. He saved 134 of them. I think a .985 save percentage is pretty good for a goaltender, don't you?
"There's no question that the performance [Rask] put in this series was elite," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. " He was the difference in the series, there is no question."
Not to take away from Rask because those numbers are out of the world, but the guys in front of him helped him out a lot. Of course he had to make some great saves along the way, but in Game 4, for example, Rask wasn't called to task all that much. The defense was just as good in front of him. They gave up chances as any defense will, but they limited them better than any team could against Pittsburgh's star power.
It all led to another odd stat, and one revealing of how much Boston controlled this series: The Penguins never led. Not for one measly second. You aren't going to get many leads when you average 0.5 goals per game, but that number is still jarring for this team.
Maybe it will finally be enough to get coach Claude Julien the credit he deserves. I'm not entirely sure why, but he never seems to get mentioned much in the talk about Boston's success. He had such a perfect plan for his Bruins in this series, having the Penguins play right into their hands. The Bruins' play in the two zones that Pittsburgh struggled in the most -- the neutral and their offensive zone -- was superb. Julien planned perfectly.
The Penguins looked flustered, uncertain. That was doubly true for the power play which was so good all season. It went 0-for-14 in this series. Incredible, really, with that kind of talent. But it's hard to score on the man advantage when the Bruins disrupt every entry and send it back down the ice with relative ease. In one penalty kill in Game 4, the Bruins cleared the puck the length of the ice five times. There was little flow.
Could Crosby, Malkin and crew -- you won't go without a mention here, Jarome Iginla -- have played better? Of course. It was an abysmal series by their standards. Just make sure that you recognize why. More than anything else it has to do with the common denominator in the past couple of years; when the Bruins are at their best, they are as good as anybody in the league.
It wasn't the Penguins not showing up as much as it was the Bruins making them disappear.