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Team concept, on and off ice, carries Bruins to Stanley Cup Final

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  June 7, 2013 08:13 PM

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The Penguins were supposed to do this to them. Wasn't that how the plot was supposed to unfold?

The Boston Bruins? Nice team. Deep. Disciplined. Well-coached. Play well together. Whupped those soft-serve Canucks for a Cup a couple of years ago.

But put them up against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a 40-goal scorer here and a Norris Trophy finalist there?

Why, they'd be little more than a speed bump on endless rewarding rushes over the blue line.

Isn't that what Jarome Iginla told us in actions if not words back in March when he single-handedly dismantled a done � yes, done � deal to the Bruins so he could go play for the Penguins, the star-studded destination team, the Miami Heat of the NHL?

Iginla has 530 NHL goals in 16 seasons, but his name is not etched on the Stanley Cup. He deduced roughly 10 weeks ago that Pittsburgh was the best hope of turning his heaviest unfulfilled hockey dream into reality.

After four games and four very different losses to those Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, the goal has vanished again.

So ... care to reconsider, Jarome?

"The Bruins, they played very well, they're a very good team,'' Iginla said after the Bruins' 1-0 victory Friday night gave the Bruins the series sweep, sending them to their second Cup Final in three years. "I was fortunate to have that choice, and when you make it you definitely believe in the guys here, and we played some great hockey up until this last series."

Bruins coach Claude Julien, perhaps in a bid to stay in the hockey gods' good graces, was quick to acknowledge that the Penguins had very little luck in the series. But the larger truth is that his team made the Penguins' stars vanish into a cloudy sky. Yes, the Penguins hit a few posts. They didn't hit much else. They played so poorly it was jarring at times.

Iginla did not contribute a point. Neither did Crosby or Malkin, arguably the two best players in the world. They were neutered by the Bruins' tireless defense, disciplined, relentless checking, and the almost casual brilliance of goalie Tuukka Rask, who stopped 158 of the 160 shots he saw in the series.

That's right. The Penguins managed just two goals in four games against Rask, who's matching Tim Thomas's otherworldly results of two years ago with a style that could not be more different; it's not so much that he saves the puck as he shrugs it away.

Meanwhile, the Bruins scored 12 goals. The Penguins never even held a lead.

"We don't have the superstars on this team. We don't have the best player in the world. But we might have the best team in the world," said David Krejci, a previously accomplished superstar in the postseason if not yet by reputation. "We play as a team."

The lone goal in Game 4 came via the stick of Adam McQuaid, because ... well, because of course it did. It was that kind of series. Everyone contributed, from Gregory Campbell stopping a shot with his fibula in Game 3, to his replacement, Kaspars Daugavins, who nearly scored a late goal Friday night.

We play as a team.

McQuaid, the stay-at-home defenseman who endured a trying season physically, scored exactly once in 32 regular-season games. He has twice that total now in half as many postseason games (16) this spring, scoring on a slap shot from the weakside point at 5:01 of the third period after collecting a clever pass from Brad Marchand.

Marchand, as usual, was in full-nuisance mode for much of the game, earning roughing and interference penalties less than three minutes apart in the second period, then drawing a hooking penalty on the Penguins' Brenden Morrow a couple of minutes later.

That feistiness hadn't yet waned as the usually unassuming Marchand was surrounded by media in the postgame locker room.

It was suggested to him that McQuaid wouldn't have been high on the list of candidates to score the lone goal.

"Why?,'' Marchand parried.

Maybe because he had, you know, one goal during the regular season?

"I would have picked him,'' he said, letting his defiance hang in the air for a moment before cracking a smile.

"Hey, people kept counting us out. We heard it,'' Marchand admitted. "Guys have a different kind of focus this time of year. That's really what it is."

A short pass to Marchand's left, Jaromir Jagr held court, wearing a pom-pommed knit Bruins cap and the look of someone who is savoring the familiarity of what's happening now. He's 41 years old now, with his sixth team, 22 seasons removed from his debut with the franchise he'd just helped conquer and 21 removed from his second and most recent Stanley Cup.

He was the decorated but ancient consolation prize after the Iginla deal collapsed, and while his legs work at their own pace now and he has had little luck putting the puck in the net, he has contributed. His nifty play to take the puck from Malkin during Game 3's second overtime preceded Patrice Bergeron's winner.

Jagr's effort and obvious appreciation of time and place suggests one of the NHL's all-time great individual talents has genuinely bought into the Bruins' team concept.

"The younger me would have scored 5-6 goals [in this series]," he said, grinning. "Back then, no one would have asked me to play defense. They would have said, 'Jagr, do what you want!'"

In the aftermath of victory, there was room to muse, room for perspective. They appreciate how their fate turned. Much has happened in the interim, but it wasn't that long ago that they were 11 minutes from extinction, headed for the solemn side of the handshake line in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.

Had they lost, there would have been fallout, and they haven't forgotten.

"I've been here six years,'' said Julien, half-jokingly acknowledging the tenuousness of it all. "I think I've been fired five times."

After the frenzied final few minutes, which ended with the damn perfect scene of Rask triumphantly snatching Iginla's desperation 35-foot wrister as the final split seconds ticked away, the Bruins held an understated celebration.

They put on their crisp, white Eastern Conference champion hats, and posed for a group photo with � but never touched � the Price of Wales Trophy. The crowd serenaded them with chants of "We want the Cup!"

It was nice scene. An hour later, after all of the interviews were complete, all the backs had been slapped, and all the congratulations collected, I found another.

As Gregory Campbell hobbled methodically down the gray third-floor corridor toward the elevator, his head down and his crutches obviously still an unfamiliar companion, teammate Chris Kelly approached.

"See you, big boy," he said, seeming to make sure Campbell didn't feel detached.

Campbell looked up.

"See you, man.''

For for the city, for themselves, for their hobbled buddy Campbell, the Bruins want the Cup.

Of course, so did Jarome Iginla.

The difference is that the Bruins have a real shot. Iginla? He blew his in March.

Who would have thought then that by sabotaging the deal to Boston, he was diving to block his own shot.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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