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And Then There Were Three

Tuukka Rask's impressive series saw the Boston Bruins sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tuukka Rask’s impressive series saw the Boston Bruins sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Boston Bruins booked a place in the Stanley Cup finals Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 to sweep the preseason favorites.

The unlikely Eastern Conference finals result sees the Bruins head to the finals for the second time in three years.

The Chicago Blackhawks will now look to join the Bruins as finalists. The Windy City side currently leads the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in the Western Conference finals with Game 5 scheduled to be played at the United Center on Saturday night (8:00 p.m. ET).

Eastern Conference Finals

After leaking nine goals in the opening two games, the Pittsburgh Penguins returned to sorts in Game 3. However, the Boston Bruins still managed to squeak by the Eastern Conference favorites for a 2-1 double-overtime victory, leaving the Penguins with their backs against the wall.

20130608_BOS_PITFriday night’s Game 4 proved to be a tight affair once more, with the focus on standout performances by both goaltenders.

Tomas Vokoun – who replaced Marc Andre-Fleury in the opening round of the playoffs – continued to rebound from poor performances in Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh, ultimately stopping 23 of the 24 shots fired at him. It was that one missed save that proved vital though.

With an empty scoreboard entering the third period, Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid put his head down and drove a shot at Vokoun. The puck passed the netminder for McQuaid’s second goal of the postseason and, more importantly, the only goal of the game.

The Bruins’ defense – which has been stout all series – did the rest, blanking the Penguins for a second time, securing a 1-0 final score.

With the win, the Bruins completed what was unthinkable just one week ago; a sweep of the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby and the Pens face a long summer.

It’s disappointment for Crosby and the Pens.

Pittsburgh was outscored 12-2 in the series, a gaudy differential for more reasons than one. Being outscored by 10 is one thing; scoring just two goals in four games is another.

The Penguins had the best offense in the league this season (3.4 goals per game) as well as the No. 2 power play (24.7%). The team also dominated the scorers’ sheet in series against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. This is a team built for offense, yet it collapsed against Boston.

“We scored two goals in four games. It’s not enough,” Evgeni Malkin said after the game. “It’s my mistake to score zero goals. It’s not good for me.”

Malkin wasn’t the only Penguin shooting blanks. Team captain Sidney Crosby also recorded zero points during the Eastern Conference finals.

“You score two goals [as a team] in four games in a series, and personally to go without any points, it doesn’t sit very well,” he told reporters. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t capitalize.”

The Bruins did capitalize though. They capitalized on exceptional goaltending from Tuukka Rask.

Rask stopped all 26 shots he faced in Game 4. For the series – which was bookended by shutouts – he stopped 134 of 136 shots (.985), including a gargantuan 53 saves in the double-overtime Game 3 epic.

If the old adage of ‘offense wins games, defense wins championships’ holds true, Bruins fans are going to be very happy come the end of the month.

Boston returns to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three seasons. The Bruins won a seven-game thriller against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in 2011. Now the side waits to find out if it will play another NHL regular season topper as the Western Conference finals draw towards a conclusion.

Down 3-1, Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings will look to pull out all the stops in Saturday's Game 5.

Down 3-1, Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings will look to pull out all the stops on Saturday.

Western Conference Finals

A 1-7 record away from Staples Center tells you everything you need to know about how well the Los Angeles Kings have played on the road this postseason. Things weren’t much better during the regular season, as the side compiled an 8-12-4 road record.

The Kings knew they faced the task of winning one on the road before Thursday’s Game 4. A 3-2 loss in that game now means the team has to win two on the road. That’s an unenviable task if ever there was one, particularly as the Chicago Blackhawks finished the season with an NHL-best 18-3-3 home record and are 8-1 at United Center during these playoffs. But the Kings shouldn’t be written-off, at least not just yet.

Darryl Sutter’s side climbed out of a two-game hole against the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, before staving off elimination in a Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks in the semifinals. This is a team that’s used to having its back against the wall. It’s also a team that’s used to defying expectation, which last year’s Stanley Cup-winning campaign is testament to.

The Blackhawks aren’t likely to be breathing too easy at the moment either. Joel Quenneville’s side knows all about team coming back from a 3-1 hole. They themselves did it against the Detroit Red Wings just last round, which sets this game up very nicely.

“It hasn’t gone our way on the road, obviously,” forward Justin Williams told the media on Friday.

“We need to win two in the United Center. We’re not scared of it. We’re certainly not scared of it.

“We’re going to welcome a challenge to beat the best team in the league this year in their own house starting tomorrow.”

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and his team are aware of the job at hand, and how in the NHL a 3-1 lead is anything but a guarantee.

“I think we can just go into (Saturday’s) game with the mindset that we’re down 3-1,” Toews explained.

“It’s up to you to motivate yourself and try and put yourself in that position that you feel like you’re in a seventh game.”

The Blackhawks will be buoyed by the knowledge that the Los Angeles Kings have only ever successfully navigated a 3-1 deficit once. The team came back against the Edmonton Oilers in the opening round of the 1989 playoffs, spoiling Wayne Gretzky and Co.’s chances of a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

There have been 11 other instances in which the Kings have failed to advance when trailing 3-1.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks odds for 6/8/13 (Game 5) are available now.

Chicago (-173) opened as the favorite over Los Angeles (+157) on the moneyline and most sportsbooks have extended those odds slightly.

The total opened at just 4 1/2. Both Chicago (5-7-4) and Los Angeles (5-12-0) have favored the under this postseason, the Kings especially. However, this series has seen the total go over twice and under twice. The over/under was split in the earlier games at United Center.


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