Boston Bruins’ Gamenight: Rask, Defense stellar as Bruins advance to Cup finals


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Zdeno Chara plays Twister.

And also why he is the best defenseman in the National Hockey League.

Tuukka Rask stopped all 26 shots he faced, but it was the towering Czech defenseman that saved the game, somehow managing to get a hand on an Evgeni Malkin drive that Rask had no chance at stopping with just seconds left in the game as the Boston Bruins swept the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.

As has been the case since the Bruins miraculously skated off with a Game 7 victory in their opening round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, The 1-0 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a textbook example of team defense…

…so it was entirely appropriate when defenseman Adam McQuaid scored the game winner with exactly 15:00 left in regulation, trailing the play and taking a feed right in his wheelhouse from Brad Marchand, winding up and firing a rocket over Penguins’ goalie Tomas Vokoun’s shoulder, glove side.

But it was Chara’s freakish athleticism – not to mention his 81 inch wingspan – that preserved Boston’s closeout victory.

The Penguins skating with six after pulling their goalie with less than a minute to play and desperate to get a puck past the Bruins’ net minder, a chaotic scramble ensued with every player on the ice within six feet of the goal, a virtual forest of sticks aimlessly chopping and swiping at the puck…

…when suddenly Malkin appeared with the puck at the bottom of the right circle – Rask went to his pads in anticipation of a shot, when Chara sprawled to the ice, denying the sharp-shooting Malkin a chance from the tight angle – so Malkin pulled the puck back and went left, a clear look at a wide open net as both Rask and Chara were on the ice and sliding away from center…

Malkin snapped the puck toward the goal – Chara somehow stopping his negative momentum, going right foot red, left foot blue and left hand green – twisting and using every inch of that wingspan and stopping the puck cold, giving Marchand a chance to clear the puck from the slot.

The little ball of hate was everywhere, too.  If he wasn’t chipping Penguins captain Sidney Crosby he was mixing it up deep and in front of the net, going to the ice to block shots and making pinpoint passes to streaking defensemen trailing the play…

…pretty much what all the Bruins were doing, particularly when it came to Crosby.  Marchand got into his body, and Jagr gave him an elbow, but Daniel Paille absolutely nailed him on open ice, taking Crosby’s legs out from under him and dumping him on his shoulders, his head snapping back onto the ice.

The hit, which didn’t appear to be purposeful, left Crosby looking a little unsteady and seemed to take him out of his game – frustrated and knowing they were done.  On the other hand, the Bruins seemed to get stronger and more confident as the game went on.

So confident in fact that when Marchand fed the wide open McQuaid coming across the blue line, he turned and slowly strolled into the neutral zone, as if he knew the puck was going to find twine.

A common theme for the Boston Bruins this post-season has been their patience, to take their opponent’s best shot, concentrating on their defensive effort and buying into coach Claude Julien’s mantra that if you play solid defense, the scoring will come – and though the scoring was limited to one goal in this game, the Bruins outscored Pittsburgh’s offensive juggernaut 12-2 in the series.

Two goals is all Rask and the Bruins’ defense allowed in four games, blanking Crosby and Malkin, shutting down the Penguins’ vaunted power play and recording two shutouts on their way to the four game sweep and a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals.

And a place in Boston’s sports lore.

And though their opponent has yet to be determined – Chicago leads Los Angeles three games to one in the Western Conference Finals – one has to wonder if it really matters who Boston plays.  Since the Game 7 comeback against the Leafs, the Bruins are 8-1 and Rask is the hottest goalie in the world…

…his .44 goals against in the Conference finals about as imposing as it gets – and with his teammates knowing that he has their backs, it allows the defense to take a few chances to make a play and be aggressive…and if the Bruins keep playing this way, there will be a parade in Boston in a week or two…

And then everyone to Chara’s place for a game of Twister.