Nobody expected the Boston Bruins to have a 3-0 series lead at this point in the Eastern Conference Final. Not even the Boston Bruins.
They probably shouldn't, either. Boston was outplayed in Game 3. But they weren't outscored, thanks to Tuukka Rask rubbing it in that the Bruins, unlike their opponents, have a goalie capable of stealing games. It can come in handy in close situations. It's like an Altoid in this way.
And now, thanks to two dominating road performances and one Rask show, the Bruins head into Friday's Game 4 looking to close out the series well before anybody thought possible.
The Eastern Conference Final, like the playoffs themselves, was supposed to be more marathon than sprint. But if the Bruins rest on their laurels or err in the slightest on the precipice of their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three years, it might still be.
You'd be forgiven for forgetting, after what we've seen early in this series, but the Penguins can be a juggernaut.
It goes without saying that they're a touch more potent than the New York Rangers, who also dropped three straight to open their series with Boston a round prior. The Penguins' list of dangerous offensive weapons is a mile long. The Rangers' was eight letters long.
The Bruins can't give Pittsburgh an inch. They were shell-shocked in Games 1 and 2, but the Penguins showed signs of coming to life in Game 3. If they've found their way, the Bruins need to ensure, immediately, that they're too late. From CSNNE:
“I think we know how we need to play,” said Claude Julien. “It’s about us bringing it tonight. This is about one game. It’s nothing more than about one game, and what we need to do here. We try and minimize all of the hoopla around everything, and keep it to the one game, and how we need to play.
“We didn’t play our best game [in Game 3]. They played better. We need to be a better team tonight.”
Julien's right to use the word need. The loss of Gregory Campbell in Game 3 was a reminder that every game comes with the risk of losing role players to injury. Part of winning the Stanley Cup is staying healthy, and the fewer games you play, the better chance you have of doing that.
The Bruins have reached the penultimate level with a boatload of extra lives. They'll need them against the end boss. That in mind, while it's important not to look past the Penguins, the Bruins have to think about the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4.
Like Boston, Chicago is on the verge of closing out their Conference Final. They could do it Saturday, and if they do, the Bruins need to be waiting for them, not preparing for their second and third attempts to join them. While you can't take focus off the task at hand, the task at hand really is winning the Stanley Cup; and to do that, the Bruins need to be as healthy, as rested, and as readied as possible.
That means finishing off Pittsburgh immediately.
The Bruins will have four opportunities to close out the Penguins. To use any more than one would be a waste.