Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final was a surprise to both Penguins and Bruins fans alike. This is a Penguins team that has not been shut out all year and has the most prolific playoff scoring pace in recent memory. But the Bruins took them down in a 3-0 victory on the road in Pittsburgh. Here are five reasons why the Bruins were able to pull off the win.
1. FaceoffsThe Bruins have quietly been among the best faceoff teams in the NHL all season, whereas the Penguins have simply clung to average faceoff ability, winning about half of their draws, content to allow their strength off of the rush and end-to-end play to create many of their chances. The Penguins only won 16 total faceoffs against the Bruins, or 33 percent of all draws, meaning the Bruins won 67 percent.
This is a huge part of why the Bruins kept the Penguins frustrated: they controlled the direction the game was moving in more often than not. Patrice Bergeron alone was 63 percent on faceoffs and 75 percent against Sidney Crosby, who is not only considered good at faceoffs, but one of the players the Penguins expect to get the puck to when cycling in the offensive zone. Crosby not winning each draw to begin that cycle is a huge reason why the Penguins failed to get consistent, quality chances on Tuukka Rask, which brings us to ...
2. Playing well in the defensive zoneWhen the Penguins did gain the offensive zone, the Bruins excelled at taking space away from them without either screening Rask on shots or creating mad scrambles around the cage. The Bruins responded successfully to the Pens’ zone entries with smart stick-checking and alert positioning, the kind of solid team defense that the Penguins have yet to encounter in these playoffs. The Bruins had fits with Toronto’s speed at times in the first round, but they have tightened up their system and prepared themselves mentally to handle speed. Still, the Penguins didn’t bring their best horses to the race on Saturday night, because ...
3. The Penguins couldn’t mentally show up to play as the game went on.The Bruins were frustrating the Pens early on and got a fluky goal off of a deflection to open the scoring. The Penguins remained well in the game, however, until the second period, when Matt Cooke boarded Adam McQuaid and was served a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. While there is no question that Cooke should have been penalized, the severity of his punishment was called into question when Brad Marchand boarded James Neal later in the period and only received two minutes, even though the plays were comparable. But it was the Bruins who held their composure after a physical period. The Penguins effectively put themselves out of the game by reacting at the end of the second period to the pent-up frustration from lack of scoring and the calls against them. Malkin fought Bergeron and Crosby engaged with Zdeno Chara. It seemed like the Cooke hit and subsequent ejection ruined any chance the Penguins had of getting composed again and playing their game. Regardless of opinion on the hit, or opinion of NHL officiating, playing through incidents like that is necessary to come back in a game.
4. Consistent linesThe Bruins had the cohesion to run all four of their lines all night like a well-oiled machine. A side effect of that was that the Penguins’ head coach Dan Bylsma, known for shuffling lines fairly frequently, seemed to make adjustments not strategically, but out of desperation. The Bruins looked comfortable on almost every shift, even the ones where they were being challenged by the Penguins. And even when the Penguins were threatening to score, Penguins personnel shakeups seemed to lead to miscues.
5. Tuukka RaskThe Penguins did still get quality chances on Rask at times, but the Bruins’ netminder kept them out. While the difference between a shutout and a tighter game may have been a combination of mere inches and sheer luck, saves that needed to be made were made, and Rask earned his shutout.
Can they do it again?The Bruins looked dominant in their 3-0 win, but they did not look like a powerhouse. There were clear mistakes by the Penguins on all three Bruins goals, mistakes this Penguins team has not made often in these playoffs. One goal was a deflection, one was a bad rebound and one was abysmally bad defensive zone coverage by Pittsburgh. It would be unrealistic to expect that Rask can shut the Penguins out every night, that the Penguins will lose their tempers every night, or that the Bruins will always get an early lead to work with.
If the Bruins plan on going up 2-0, they will need to keep winning faceoffs and use their physicality to slow down the game, especially through the neutral zone. While the Bruins’ defensive zone coverage was very good, the Pens had many chances to come with speed into the zone, and the scoring chances they got often came off of the rush. Rask won't be able to stop them all if the "track meet" is allowed to continue. The Boston Bruins are in the driver's seat with the ability to stop that.
If the Penguins want to arrive in Boston with a split, they’ll have to put their heads down and get to work. They’ll have to start winning draws, for one. They will also have to create serious traffic around Rask. And they absolutely cannot show up as the team that was frustrated at the end of the second period of Game 1. Fans of both teams and Bruins players alike are curious to see which Penguins team takes the ice at CONSOL Energy Center on Monday. The Bruins will want to be the same team they were in Game 1, but the Penguins still have to decide which team they are going to be. And that will make all the difference.
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