Despite being shorthanded, Bruins put chokehold on Flyers in Game 3
The Bruins took a 3-0 series lead with a 4-1 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia
After losing two more players, Boston showed playing as a group is its key
Tuukka Rask made 34 saves as Boston moved closer to a first East finals since '92
PHILADELPHIA -- Another game, another short bench for Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien. But what's that to the reigning Jack Adams award-winning coach? It doesn't seem to matter how quickly his players are dropping (center David Krejci and defenseman Adam McQuaid are the latest since Marco Sturm tore his ACL and MCL on his first shift of Game 1; they left the game in the first period and didn't return), it almost seems like Julien and his players don't even seem to realize it. As in any great system, personnel seems to matter less the more the group can play as a whole, and that's what the Bruins banked on, as they beat the Flyers, 4-1, in Game 3 Wednesday night.
"I thought it was a real good road game on our part," Julien said. "For us to go down to a short bench and sustain it, I thought our guys responded well. If anything I thought it was a real gutsy effort on our part.... What I liked about our team is that we didn't really panic. [The Flyers] had some really great opportunities tonight, and our goaltender came up big for us."
Yes, Tuukka Rask, the rookie netminder who led the NHL in GAA (1.97) and save percentage (.931) this season, held his ground, making 34 saves and leaving very little around the crease for Philadelphia to seize upon -- though the Flyers lack of net presence at times seemed to help his cause. But the 23-year-old Rask, who began this season with just five games of NHL experience, rebounded from giving up an early goal and has inevitably played a huge part in the Bruins' 3-0 series chokehold.
Yes, the Flyers did score first; they earned their first lead in three games 2½ minutes into the game, when Arron Asham cashed in on a two-on-one opportunity with Claude Giroux, a chance created by a little puck bobbling by McQuaid at the Bruins blueline. But just as the crowd at the Wachovia Center was settling in and the volume and heat in the building began to rise, the Bruins quickly snuffed it out with the equalizer 99 seconds later. A wide shot from the point by defenseman Matt Hunwick deflected off of Blake Wheeler's stick -- either fortuitously or deftly, depending on which side you ask -- and past Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, and in the blink of an eye, the lead was gone. It was as if it never even existed.
And then, it took just another 94 seconds for the Bruins to put the Flyers back in that place where they've been languishing in this series: fighting from behind. In the first two games, both one-goal affairs and decided late (in the case of Game 1, 13:52 into overtime), Philadelphia leaned on some dashing individual efforts to pull them out and even, but that hasn't been enough. When the Bruins scored on the power play early in the third period, the silence in the Wachovia Center was noticeable, almost awkward, like the sound of Philadelphian optimism seeping out of the building.
By the last minutes, whatever was left of it all but funneled out of the arena, when Patrice Bergeron sailed the puck on an empty net at 18:08. The Wachovia Center emptied so quickly, it almost seemed like the crowd ran out of the building to see if they could catch the top of the ninth across the parking lot. (The Phillies defeated the Cardinals 4-0, for what it's worth.) But the lopsided final score belies the Flyers' chances, especially early. They outshot the Bruins, 35-20 (not counting the 21 shots that didn't reach Rask because of Boston legs, skates and sticks), and used their bodies to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, which they sometimes had trouble doing in the first two games.
"I like our game; I don't like the scoreboard," Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We came out in that came and I though we were just storming. I mean, our strides were strong everywhere and you look up at the scoreboard about eight minutes into it, and it says we're down 2-1. And now we're chasing again. I think that lead is important."
But how elusive it's been for Philadelphia.
By the third period, with the Bruins collapsing down on the Flyers, protecting a 3-1 lead, Philadelphia's leaders again tried to lug the team out. "We got away from what we were trying to do," says Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. "We became a little too individualistic in that third period, and at this time of year, when a team's got a two-goal lead, when we're going up against a 1-4 [trap], it's tough to skate through the whole team."
At the end, the Bruins were just too effective at impeding the Flyers in the neutral zone, blocking shots, clearing rebounds, staying strong in battles along the boards -- all of the little things that players have to do as a team to win.
"Looking at the games, you can sit here and say, 'Well, they were close; they had a chance to win,'" Pronger said. "But that's not good enough. We're not here to keep it close or almost do something. We're here to win hockey games."
Pronger shouldn't get ahead of himself or his team; he should be using the singular. On the edge of their season, a loss from a long summer, the Flyers will have to find a way to win one hockey game before it can even think about winning more.
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