For Bruins, nasty Game 1 win over Penguins has feel of 2011

The Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals by shutting down the 'pretty hockey.' The Penguins stars were not amused.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron fights with Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin after the second period of Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference finals hockey playoff series in Pittsburgh Saturday. The Bruins would love Malkin to fight even more.

If NBC is to be believed, midway through the second period of Game 1 of the National Hockey League Eastern Conference final, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien told his team: "No more pretty hockey."

By the measure of black-and-blue Bruins hockey, however, the rest of the game was beautiful.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have averaged more than four goals a game in these playoffs, the fact that they were shut out, 3-0, will not be the biggest concern. Nor will the goaltending of Tomas Vokoun, who was not too much better than average.

Rather, it will be the fact that for those last 30 minutes, the Pittsburgh Penguins apparently forgot they were the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Evgeni Malkin got into a fight (which is not why he is paid $7.5 million a year), and Sidney Crosby looked as though he was auditioning for the part of Draco Malfoy in "Harry Potter on Ice," casting sneering comments from behind hulking cronies.

In short, they looked suspiciously like another team that was faster and more talented than the Bruins but that was lured into running their mouths and swinging their fists instead of playing hockey: the 2011 Vancouver Canucks. That didn't work out so well for the Canucks, who lost the Stanley Cup final to the Bruins in seven games. And it is a trap that the Bruins would dearly love to spring on the Penguins this year.

After all, the Penguins are all about "pretty hockey." Why dump the puck in when you can weave your way through five defenders, pirouette with balletic grace along the end boards, and then drop a no-look pass perfectly onto the stick of one of your trailing defenseman? When the Penguins are on their game – as they were on occasion Saturday night – it looks as if the NHL never abandoned FoxTrax. The puck moves from stick to stick so rapidly it is only a blur.

And for 30 minutes Saturday, the Bruins were persuaded to play "pretty hockey." Or at least to attempt it. The scoreboard seemed to suggest they were holding their own. They were up, 1-0, on a David Krejci goal that pinballed between Vokoun's pads after a deflection. 

But they were hardly in control.

Between the flashing pads of goaltender Tuuka Rask and the long arms of defenseman Zdeno Chara, which seemingly sweep clear every puck within a 20-foot radius, the Bruins were surviving, and – when they could manage – counterpunching. But 30 more minutes seemed a lot to ask.

Which is why Julien reminded them that they are, in fact, not the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that could be a good thing.

In a sport where the winning smile is often toothless, titles are no beauty contests. In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings play as though goals are subject to a United Nations embargo. Scoring two in a game is cause for breaking out the champagne.

"Pretty hockey" rarely gets you handed the cup by that guy in the little white gloves. The Bruins know that. Hockey's showcase event is a grind unlike any other in professional sports.

But dumb hockey doesn't help much, either. And the Bruins know that, too.

In 2011, the Canucks took the Bruins bait – literally. When "pretty hockey" was in short supply, Canuck forward Alexandre Burrows bit the finger of Bruin Patrice Bergeron. When the series shifted to Boston, the Canucks lost their focus completely and were routed.

Now, the Penguins are not the 2011 Canucks. They're better, and perhaps more important, they're healthier. But the Bruins would like nothing more than to turn this series into a repeat of that 2011 final.

These Bruins are vulnerable to teams that can come at them with speed, as the Toronto Maple Leafs did in the first round, pushing them to the seventh game before collapsing. But they were just a warmup act for the Penguins.

For 30 minutes, the Penguins gave the Bruins all they could handle.

For the other 30 minutes, they gave the Bruins a reason to hope.

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