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PITTSBURGH -- When a trip to the Stanley Cup is on the line and a team's two best players in the playoffs continue to dominate, it can only mean good things. Such is the case for the Boston Bruins.
At least it was in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals as the Bruins defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 Saturday night at Consol Energy Center. Bruins forward David Krejci scored a pair of goals and now has 19 points in 13 Stanley Cup playoff games, while goaltender Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for his first career postseason shutout.
|Tuukka Rask, who had 29 saves in blanking the Pens, has been on par with Tim Thomas of 2011.|
"As far as I'm concerned, he wasn't good, he was outstanding," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Rask's performance.
Both Krejci and Rask have been at their best in the playoffs.
While Rask helped the Bruins dispatch of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers, thinking he would post a shutout against the potent Penguins offense in Game 1 of this series would have been a stretch. After all, Pittsburgh was averaging 4.27 goals per game this postseason.
"You've got to be happy, obviously," Rask said of the shutout. "I still thought they had plenty of chances, but it's just one game. If they keep doing that, they're going to score some goals, it's going to happen. We did a good job blocking shots and taking care of those loose pucks in front."
It was the 43rd playoff shutout by a Bruins goalie and the first since Tim Thomas posted a 1-0 overtime win against the Washington Capitals on April 12, 2012. Speaking of Thomas, it appears history might be repeating itself, only this time Rask is the one putting together a strong playoff performance.
Through the first 13 games of Thomas' historic playoff run in 2011, he was 9-4 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. Rask is 9-4 with a 2.10 GAA and a .933 save percentage in 13 postseason games this spring.
"He's done great," Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. "I think sometimes our goalies, probably, within the locker room might not get as much credit as they deserve just because we've been spoiled with such consistent play from them, whether it was Timmy or him or even [Anton] Khudobin. When we see the highlights and see some of the plays that they actually did make, they usually get a delayed pat on the back the next morning when we see just how solid they were."
Since both the Bruins and Penguins had a week off between games, there was a bit of rust in the first period Saturday. Still, Pittsburgh generated quality scoring chances, but Rask turned away all 11 shots he faced in the first 20 minutes.
"You could see it from the start, and the big saves he made in the first period really kept us in the game," Bruins forward Nathan Horton said. "He's so quick, and when he sees the puck, he's going to stop it because he's a great goalie. We have a lot of faith in him, and it's definitely nice to have him back there."
While Rask did his job, the Bruins capitalized on their chances and Boston's penalty-killing unit completely stymied Pittsburgh's power play, as the Penguins went 0-for-4 on the man-advantage. It also helped Rask that the Penguins hit three posts.
"If we play the right way, we can beat everybody," Rask said. "We've shown that in the past, and when we play within the system and everybody's going, it gives us success."
Krejci is on a stretch similar to what he did during the team's 2011 Cup run, when he registered 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 25 playoffs games. His 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) are the most in the NHL this postseason, and Saturday was his sixth multipoint game of the playoffs and the 18th of his playoff career.
Krejci has a quiet confidence about him. After the Bruins' morning skate, he was asked about his league-leading production and if he's motivated by producing more than the Penguins' Sidney Crosby. Krejci said it didn't matter, but his teammates understand how productive he can be during the playoffs.
|With two goals in Game 1, David Krejci has a league-high 19 points this postseason.|
"The one thing that really helps David is he's really cool-headed and calm," Ference said. "This time of year is obviously about having emotions and getting outside your comfort zone, but some of the best players are also the ones that can keep their pulse down a bit and not get out of their heads with trying to do too much or get overly excited and only play with emotion. He does a good job of keeping pretty cool and staying extremely sharp and calm."
Even Rask said he expects Krejci to perform at this level.
"It's so weird, I didn't even realize he scored that first one until they announced the second goal, saying it was his second of the night," Rask said. "He just scores. He goes out there, he gets a chance and he gets points. He's a great player all over the ice. He's so smart, he makes the right plays all the time."
Krejci's contributions aren't limited to the offensive side of the puck. He's reliable in all aspects of the game.
"It's all of it," Horton said. "His defensive game, he's back in the corners, and when he has the puck, he makes things happen, and that's why you get him the puck as much as possible and you'll have a good night."
With a Game 1 win in the books, the Bruins will at least earn a split in Pittsburgh. But they have a chance to return to Boston with a 2-0 series lead. It wasn't the Bruins' best game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but thanks to the performances of Krejci and Rask, Boston has put itself in a good position.
"I don't think it was the best game we've had," Rask said. "There were still some mistakes. It was a weird game -- different."
But Rask and Krejci were much of the same.