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BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins will say all the right things when asked about their 2-0 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.
The players and coach Claude Julien will drop all the clichés, saying they still need to be better and how wonderful of a team their opponent is. The fact of the matter is the Bruins should be feeling good about their game right now because they're doing all the right things on the ice and that has translated into a winning product in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After series wins over the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers, Boston has dominated the top-seeded Penguins in the first two games of the conference finals. Now the Bruins find themselves with a chance to sweep the series with a pair of wins on home ice Wednesday and Friday at TD Garden.
"Any time you can come back from a road trip like that, having won both games, it's encouraging," Julien said. "Our team is really playing good hockey right now, without a doubt the best we've had this year. That has to continue to beat these guys.
"We were in the same position as Pittsburgh a few years ago and we worked our way back into it. I think we understand the situation here. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves here. We need to understand that these next games are crucial for us, just as much as it is for them."
Since their Game 6 loss against the Maple Leafs, the Bruins have played well in every aspect of the game. Boston has outscored its opponents 30-15 and outshot them 280-241. During that span, Nathan Horton leads the team with 11 points and a plus-11 rating. Teammates David Krejci and Brad Marchand have nine points each.
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has played extremely well between the pipes. In his past eight games, he's 7-1 with a 1.77 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
|Claude Julien says the Bruins know they can't let down against the Penguins despite a 2-0 series lead.|
Boston's historic win in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, when the Bruins erased a three-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes and eventually won in overtime, was the turning point. After so many inconsistencies during the lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season, the Bruins couldn't ask for a better performance since that turnaround.
"I really think after Game 7 against Toronto, it was such a big comeback for us," Julien said. "It always seems to take something to get the team really to jell and then to believe. That was a real big turning point for us.
"From there on in, I thought against the Rangers we played some really good hockey as well. [New York] was a team that was gritty and was going to give us a lot of hard work to compete against. They did that, there was no quit in that team. That just helped us get better.
"We know what Pittsburgh represents and we haven't lost faith in what we can do, but also we haven't lost track of what they can do as well. They're a potent scoring team and we've got to make sure we stay on top of our game. It's as simple as that."
After the Bruins beat the Rangers in five games in the conference semifinals, and before this series began, Boston's general manager, Peter Chiarelli, discussed how the organization's plan has given the team success.
"Things change so quickly and you've got to move with the changes and the trends," Chiarelli said. "We've got a real good foundation and we've had success. Things can change quickly and you've got to move quickly to make decisions soundly and quickly. You have to be proud of what we've accomplished here, but saying that, it's a demanding town and they expect the best and we try to give it to them."
Chiarelli wanted to keep the heart and soul of the 2011 Stanley Cup team intact, so he extended the contracts of Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.
"Those are decisions that we make, that I make, that you get to know the players," the GM said. "There's a fine line between loyalty to these players and making the right decisions and that's what I have to do as a manager. Two years ago, you did what we did, and you see how these guys work and how they will go to the wall for you. The initial premise isn't difficult. It's like, 'Wow, we've won.' Historically, it's been a different exercise for teams that have won and then have tried to keep the core together, and then you make some mistakes.
"It's about day-to-day and you see what players are going to bring you, then you look long term. It's easy to say let's just keep everybody and see if we can do it under the [salary] cap and all that, but that's not always the right thing and it's a challenge."
Whenever this season ends, Chiarelli will have some of those tough decisions to make. Horton and veteran defenseman Andrew Ference will be unrestricted free agents. Horton struggled during the regular season, but he's producing in a big way in the playoffs and has proved he can elevate his game at this time of year.
Ference's presence in the lineup and in the locker room is a crucial part of the Bruins' success, but with the rising defensive stars in the organization, it will be interesting to see how Chiarelli handles the situation.
Without focusing too much on the future of the team, the present roster is winning and winning big. The organization's blueprint is a solid one and it could lead to another special spring in Boston. But the Bruins will tell you they're not getting ahead of themselves.