Chiarelli: From Top to Bottom, We've Been Rolling
BostonBruins.com - The Bruins have punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now all they have to do is await their opponent, while Chicago and Los Angeles grind out their Western Conference series. The 'Hawks currently have the 3-1 series lead, with Game Five set for tonight.
It wasn't easy. But the the Bruins managed to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins - the first time such a feat has happened since 1979, allowing them only two goals to their 12 in the process. The B's have now won nine of their past 10 games.
Under General Manager Peter Chiarelli, his club now has won nine playoff series since 2008. The only two teams above them are Pittsburgh and Detroit with 10 apiece.
With the Black & Gold taking a well-deserved off day Saturday following the 1-0 shutout of the Penguins, the B's GM held media availability at TD Garden to discuss his team's performance through the first three series, heading into the Finals.
So, how satisfied is he with the team's play dating back to their 4-1 comeback win over Toronto in Game Seven?
"Well, I don’t have many complaints. From top to bottom, we’ve been rolling," said Chiarelli. "Our breakout has been relatively seamless; I think our neutral zone forecheck – there’s been tweaks here and there – has been terrific; our forecheck has been terrific."
"So in all three zones we’ve been really good, defending we’ve been good, Tuukka [Rask's] been terrific, we’re generating a lot of chances, we’re scoring when we have to, we’re shutting down when we have to. So, it’s hard to complain after the last two series. The challenge will be to keep it going in the next series, whoever we play."
"Both are good teams, both are different teams. It will be good to get the rest the next couple of days and regroup. I haven’t seen a stretch like this in a while, the way we’re playing."
Better End of Deal?
We knew it would come up at some point - the Bruins getting Jaromir Jagr, as opposed to the Jarome Iginla deal that didn't go through, with the former Calgary captain choosing the Pittsburgh Penguins as his place of business. It was poetic for some, as the buzzer sounded, to see Tuukka Rask glove the final shot of the game off the stick of Iginla.
"Well, really, as I said at the time, those types of things happen once in a while, they just don’t become public. You know, in my profession you learn to turn the page and go to the next thing and move on," said Chiarelli. "Otherwise, if you dwell on things, you’re not going to be able to focus."
"So, I mean, it’s satisfying that we won with the group that we had. I’m happy to see the contributions we got from Jaromir and the other players that we acquired. It wasn’t anything extra. To beat a team of that caliber the way that we beat them was very satisfying."
Framed as "Underdogs"
The satisfaction, of course, comes not only from moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals, but also in defeating the league's best equipped offense to get there. The big names coming into the series - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Iginla - all failed to register even a point.
The entire series had been framed as the highly-touted Penguins going up against the "underdog" Bruins - and the Black & Gold embraced it.
Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg logged unfathomable minutes in the four games, especially the double overtime thriller (spanning upwards of 23-42 minutes in every game), and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci led the defensive efforts from the forwards. And Tuukka Rask was just simply outstanding, putting up a 0.44 goals-against average and .985 save percentage.
"I guess it’s a little easier to be the underdog, just from the public perception. I think what happens is, is our guys respect the opponent. Sometimes that turns into an underdog scenario, you guys [media] make it that," said Chiarelli. "Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But we respect our opponent and that’s important because at any given night you can be beaten by any team."
"Any given night, so our guys have to respect the opponent. That’s what happens, that’s reflected in their comments. Sometimes it turns into an underdog scenario. I don’t think it’s anything more than that, I don’t think we’re trying to create that. It’s just respecting the opponent."
Game Seven a Driving Force
What exactly happened to this team following the Game Seven against Toronto?
"I definitely think it was a driving force going forward. I think the fact that we did that certainly catapulted us into our level of play and performance, definitely," said Chiarelli. "You could see the team pick itself up. Going back to when it happened, you could feel the momentum."
"Watching the team as often as I have, you could feel the momentum after we scored the second goal. I’ve never seen something like that happen, with two empty-net goals like that, but I could feel it coming, and I could see the Toronto team see that it was coming too. Whether it was going to happen our not, as the minutes progressed I thought, ‘This might happen.’"
"That’s a testament to the team. There wasn’t really a switch. We had some good games in that series, we had some not so good games, but I think it was more of a realization to these guys that, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get this thing done.’ They waited a little long, but certainly it was a boost to their play the rest of the way, without question."
Just as Sweet
It's the second time in three years for the general manager to see the Bruins get a chance at the Cup. How is the feeling different?
"You just know what to expect more now, I think, as far as all the kind of away from the rink stuff. I was more confident in the last two series, just how we were playing," said Chiarelli. "It’s a great feeling. I’m not as nervous, that’s probably to do with you know what to expect."
At the Core
Seventeen players in the B's lineup Friday night won the Stanley Cup in 2011 in the spoked-B. The only three on the ice to not have won the Cup with this group include Torey Krug, Kaspars Daugavins and Jaromir Jagr.
The core is together, and it was a point of emphasis for Chiarelli to lock up that core throughout last spring and summer.
Does getting back to the Final again reinforce the GM's decision to keep the core intact after 2011?
"Absolutely," said Chiarelli. "There’s a fine line between unfettered loyalty to the players and building a good team. That’s my job to find that line. I’ll continue to try and do it."
"This team has showed a lot of character through this playoff run, as they did the last time. We’ll try and do it again, if I can."
The formula for the Bruins is the "team" aspect of not having anyone placed up on a pedestal. The character, effort and chemistry of the group stems from that.
Chiarelli noted that losing a player like Gregory Campbell shows how every player - whether a high-end scorer like David Krejci and his league-leading nine goals and 21 points, or a 'Merlot Line' workhorse like Campbell and his gutsy shot-blocking shift - has a significant impact on this team.
"Soupy is a perfect example. That play aside, which seems to be viral right now, he’s a blood, sweat, and tears player. Guys see the battles that he goes into," said the GM. "I can name six or seven other guys that are like that on our team, and they’re the role players and they just set such an important example."
"They’re selfless and you talk about the strong foundation - they’re part of that strong foundation, and they’re hard to find. Getting Soupy in that trade, he was an important acquisition because of the character and the way he plays."
Defense Sparking Offense
Not only do the 'role players' have a tremendous effect on the make-up of the Bruins, but the defensemen's ability to spark offense for the Bruins, especially in this postseason, has been remarkable. The B's have gotten 35 of their 138 points in the playoffs from their blueliners (25.4%), including 15 of their 50 goals (30%), none more important than the series-clinching blast from Adam McQuaid in the Game Four 1-0 shutout.
"I know the coaching staff has always stressed for those D, one D to take their ice and/or to join the rush," said Chiarelli, of their defensive-based system. "It’s been a constant theme this year and we’re starting to see it now."
"Our game, not on the rush, but in the offensive zone revolves around getting the puck to the point. Not that our offense is built around it, but we certainly have always stressed the D becoming involved. Not terribly surprised that they’re contributing the way that they have, they just didn’t do it as much in the regular season."
"So now you’ve got, well-chronicled, the younger D, all those D really can skate when they’re in the lineup. You’ve got Johnny [Boychuk] coming on too, in that sense. And then last night we got Adam [McQuaid]."
"I don’t how often we’re going to see that last night from Adam," he smirked. "But I’ll take it when he does it."