The Bruins beat the Penguins 3-0 on Saturday to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Here are five takeaways from a very solid win by Boston to open the series:
Bruins play their game: Give Sidney Crosby credit. There are not many heavyweight enforcers in the NHL who will go face-to-face with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, give him an earful and even shove the 6-foot-9, 255-pound giant. But that's just what Crosby did after he nudged Tuukka Rask and talked some trash to the Bruins goalie at the end of the second period. But while Crosby's courage is admirable, the genesis of that courage and his teammates' sudden physical approach was not. This series was billed as the skill of the Penguins against the physical game of the Bruins. Just as the Bruins would have been reminded that they're not a finesse team had they tried to play like one, the Penguins were reminded that while they can be physical, they cannot be the Bruins. As a result, the Penguins let frustration get the best of them, with the Bruins gladly obliging. Frankly, the Bruins won the mental and emotional battles and essentially cooked dinner in the Penguins' collective kitchen. Playing with emotion and grit is one thing, and while the Penguins outhit the Bruins 34-19, the majority of those hits derived from frustration. Meanwhile, the majority of the Bruins' hits served a purpose and were a byproduct of their typical style of play, which they executed to perfection.
Rask looking to do more than erase 2010 demons: After manning the pipes for the Bruins' epic collapse to the Flyers, in which they blew a 3-0 series lead in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, some critics questioned whether Rask could handle playoff pressure and get the Bruins past the second round. Rask not only has done that, he is proving to be more than worthy of being an elite starter in the postseason. Rask earned his first playoff shutout with a 29-save performance against the team with the best offense in the NHL and in its home barn. Rask clearly was a major factor in the Penguins' frustration that boiled over late in the second period and into the third and let it be known that he will not be intimidated by the Penguins' skill or, in the case of this game, some late hits on him. Rask has erased the demons of 2010, but he obviously has bigger goals than that.
Bruins need to consider re-signing Horton: I've been critical of Nathan Horton's inconsistent play plenty of times and, like many, have wondered if he lost his physical edge after suffering two concussions within a calendar year. But Horton now is playing like the Horton we saw before the devastating hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals against the Canucks. He is physically engaged and playing with passion, and as a result putting up not only points, but clutch points. He had a goal and two assists in Game 1, and his physical presence was felt throughout the game. There have been plenty of whispers that the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent won't be re-signed by the Bruins, but with the way he's playing when it counts most, the Bruins have to be considering bringing him back.
Krejci right there with Quick for Conn Smythe: Heading into the conference finals, there was plenty of talk that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is the hands-down front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy, and there is no argument here Quick is the guy at this point. But Bruins center David Krejci isn't as far behind as many might think, and he proved that again in Game 1 with two goals. Krejci leads the NHL in playoff scoring with seven goals and 12 assists and continues to be one of the best playoff performers in the NHL. He gets timely goals and is a main reason the Bruins are within three wins of the Stanley Cup finals.
At what point does NHL stop Cooke?: It really is hard to believe that the Penguins media nominated Matt Cooke for the Masterton Trophy and that so many claim that the Penguins forward has reformed his game. Have the cheap shots from Cooke decreased over the past two seasons? Yes. But they have not gone away, and it is clear Cooke simply has no respect for his fellow players or even his teammates. His hit from behind on Adam McQuaid showed not only a lack of respect for another player's safety, but also put his teammates in a pinch, having to kill off the subsequent power play. He obviously doesn't get it, and the question must be asked: When will the NHL ban Cooke from the league for an extended period, or maybe even permanently?