x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Plenty of pain and gain for Boston Bruins in the NHL play-offs

Physical grit and a tough-as-nails mentality take the Boston Bruins to the NHL final round, writes Gregg Patton.

Boston Bruins’ Gregory Campbell broke his leg after he was hit by a shot but stayed in the game. Bruce Bennett / AFP
Boston Bruins’ Gregory Campbell broke his leg after he was hit by a shot but stayed in the game. Bruce Bennett / AFP

So much for the "skills competition" in the Stanley Cup Finals. It has been replaced by a blood-and-guts sensibility.

The hockey world may have been anticipating a finesse-orientated showdown in the Stanley Cup Finals, if favoured Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins had prevailed.

Forget it.

Boston Bruins – whose grinding defence and who-knows-what offence are the antithesis of the Penguins' and Blackhawks' freewheeling styles – have dashed all that.

When Pittsburgh bowed out to Boston, swept in four games on Friday night, including two shutouts – two more than the Penguins suffered in the regular season – the tenor of the tournament changed dramatically.

The Bruins' 4-0 sweep was a foreshadowing, a signal to the winner of the Chicago-Los Angeles Kings series: the finals will be about defence and will power.

What Boston might be remembered for most in this post-season is centre Gregory Campbell staying on the ice for the last 50 seconds of a Pittsburgh power play in Game 3, playing on a broken leg.

After sliding in front of an Evgeni Malkin slapshot and taking it square on his right fibula, the 29-year-old centre lay prone on the ice for about 10 seconds, before struggling to his feet.

He regained his stick and glove, gamely shuffling, bent over, into the Penguins' shooting lanes.

Once he awkwardly waved his stick to poke the puck away from Malkin. When the Bruins finally cleared the puck from their defensive zone and killed the penalty, Campbell pushed his way unassisted to the bench.

His broken leg will keep him sidelined the rest of the post-season, but his bite-the-bullet effort figures to play on with his teammates.

"What [Campbell] did, it almost seems like it's expected around here," Boston's rookie defenceman Torey Krug told The Canadian Press. "I think anyone in this locker room would have been willing to do that, but [Campbell] is one of a kind."

While Pittsburgh will spend the off-season wondering what went wrong in a series in which neither of their superstars, Sidney Crosby nor Malkin, scored a single point, Boston move into a second final in three years.

Boston's shutdown defence, anchored by goalie Tuukka Rask, which conceded an NHL record-low two goals in a four-game series, was the difference.

"At the end, it felt not only Tuukka Rask was keeping the puck out of the net, but there was a force around the net, because we had some great opportunities," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma lamented in his post-Game 4 remarks.

Opportunity, in the end, was no match for blood and guts.

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