The Boston Bruins pride themselves on playing championship-caliber defense.
It's what helped them shut down the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final, and it will play a major role in the team's success during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the star-studded Chicago Blackhawks.
Facing a possible 2-0 deficit in Saturday's Game 2, the Bruins battled back with a vintage defensive performance to earn a 2-1 overtime victory after a horrible first period in which they could have easily been down 4-0 if not for some remarkable saves from starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.
The Blackhawks outshot the Bruins 19-4 in the first 20 minutes (15 SOG in the first 14 minutes), including a dominating 13-2 scoring-chance advantage. Patrick Sharp opened the scoring with a goal 11 minutes, 22 seconds into the period after Rask made a few great stops just moments before to keep the puck out of his net.
"Well, we definitely were in survival mode there for a bit," said Rask when asked about his team's play in the first period.
"It looked like they had more guys out there than we did. They were bouncing on every single puck in front of net, had a lot of chances. We definitely played pretty bad. But, you know, it was good that we were only down by one and regrouped after that."
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they were not able to knock out the Bruins with a second goal in the first period. If we have learned anything in the 2013 playoffs, it's that Boston is one of the most resilient groups of players in recent memory. If teams don't put them away when given the opportunity, the Bruins often find a way to win.
From the start of the second period, the Bruins locked down and tightened up defensively to get back into the game. The team's penalty kill was also perfect in its three short-handed situations in Game 2 and is now 6-of-6 in the series. Boston has not allowed a power-play goal since Game 5 of Round 2 (21-of-21).
Take a look at the number of scoring chances and shots that Chicago earned in each period on Saturday.
Limiting a team with as much offensive talent as the Blackhawks to just six scoring chances in over 50 minutes (second period through overtime) of play is quite impressive.
Sharp and Marian Hossa, who were credited with six and five shots during the first period, respectively, only managed to throw three more shots on Rask for the remainder of the game. At the end of the night, the only Blackhawks players to tally more than two shots on goal in Game 2 were Sharp (seven), Hossa (seven) and Michael Frolik (four).
Boston did a tremendous job of keeping the Blackhawks to the outside, where defensemen such as Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk used their strength and size advantage over the quick, highly skilled Blackhawks forwards along the boards.
When Chicago was able to maneuver in the center of the ice and get into the slot, Boston did a great job of clogging the shooting lanes to prevent pucks from getting to Rask. The Bruins blocked 17 shots in Game 2 to increase their playoff lead to 314 (56 more than the next team).
In addition to their shot-blocking, the Bruins also wore down the Blackhawks after the first period with intense physical play and a total of 50 hits, many of which were delivered by power forward Milan Lucic. The 25-year-old winger had a game-high 10 hits and set the tone for the Bruins after the first period with physical play and plenty of energy on each shift.
Boston used its size and strength advantage to defeat the highly skilled Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Cup final, and the Original Six club is using this same strategy against the Blackhawks with positive results.
The Bruins were able to keep Penguins stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla off the scoresheet entirely through four games in the conference finals. They need a similar defensive performance against the Blackhawks' best offensive players to win a second championship in three years, and so far, the Bruins have done a remarkable job frustrating Chicago's top-six forwards.
Captain and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews has been completely shut down by the Bruins in this series with zero points and a total of just seven shots through two games. Superstar winger Patrick Kane has also failed to find the back of the net, with one assist and only 4.5 shots per game.
With the Bruins having the benefit of last change as the home team in the next two games, Bruins head coach Claude Julien will be able to play the matchup game and get his best defensemen on the ice whenever Toews, Kane and Hossa hop over the boards.
Julien coaches a structured defensive system that requires good positioning, physical play and consistent back-checking from every player in all three zones. His players buy into this system, and it's hard to argue with the results.
Over the last 12 games, Boston has allowed an average of just 1.55 goals per game, and Rask deserves a ton of credit for this defensive success. He's the Bruins' leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate with a 13-5 record, a 1.73 GAA and a .944 save percentage.
The Stanley Cup Final is tied at 1-1 for the first time since 2004 following the Bruins' victory in Game 2, and they will need another strong defensive performance to take their first lead of the series with a win at TD Garden on Monday.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.
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