Boston Bruins living up to hype: Don't poke the bear

NHL linesman Shane Heyer gets an earful from Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara as he breaks up a...

NHL linesman Shane Heyer gets an earful from Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara as he breaks up a third period scuffle with Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell in Game 3 Monday. (REUTERS/Winslow Townson)

ROB LONGELY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:50 PM ET

BOSTON - You see it on signs and on posters around and inside the TD Garden.

Don't Poke the Bear.

Each of the Boston Bruins’ opponents have faced since its epic Game 7 comeback against the Maple Leafs in the opening round can only wish it never happened.

Once the bear was poked and awakened sometime early in the third period of that triumph over the Leafs, the Big Bad Bruins checked in. And the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs haven't been the same since.

With a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks heading into Wednesday's Game 3 at the TD Garden, they are now just two wins away from a second title in the past three seasons.

No one around the Leafs wants to be reminded of it any more of course, but with each Bruins win the Toronto chapter -- in what is turning into an incredible post season run for the ages -- gets that much more significant.

And harder to believe. Especially when you start looking at and digesting some of the cold, hard facts.

Be forewarned, then: The following numbers are not for the weak of heart. Read them and feel free to weep if you bleed Toronto blue and white.

The Bruins have not lost in regulation time since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Leafs. They are 10-0-2 since then, a monumental streak given the time of year and stakes that go with it.

The scoreboard reads Leafs 18, Rangers-Penguins-Blackhawks 17. That's right, the Leafs managed more goals on Tuukka Rask -- who let's face it, was rather ordinary in that series -- than the rest of the Bruins opponents combined. The commitment to the defensive game, which is the signature of this team, has been beyond impressive.

Leafs sniper Phil Kessel scored four goals against the Bruins, and if Toronto would have won Game 7 by a 4-2 score, he would have had three game winners. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have combined for a big, fat zero goals.

The Leafs managed to pull out one more win over the Bruins than the other three opponents have won combined. Boston defeated the Rangers 4-1, swept the Penguins and has a current 2-1 edge.

The Toronto power-play scored five goals against the B's, an almost unfathomable total given what has happened since. With centre Patrice Bergeron and defenceman Zdeno Chara leading the way, Boston has now killed off 27 consecutive penalties, including 10 against the hapless Hawks attack. Since Game 7 of the Leafs series, the Bruins have given up just two power play markers.

Boston goaltender Rask has allowed one goal or less in each of the Bruins past eight wins, with a 0.57 goals against average and .980 save percentage. Remember the 18 he gave up against the Leafs?

The Leafs won Game 2 at the Garden, 4-2, and added a 2-1 victory here in Game 5. The Bruins have not lost at home since and may never have been more impressive than they were in Monday's 2-0 shutout, a game that felt much more lopsided than the final score suggests.

The B's outscored the Leafs 12-11 in the four games played at the Garden and have a 16-6 edge on the other three.

So now, a Bruins team that entered the playoffs concerned about a lack of consistency -- and was less than a minute away from being bounced by an unheralded opponent -- is two wins away from the Cup.

They are quite clearly a different team now than they were against the Leafs -- a much better and more driven one at that.

"After what we went through against Toronto, the guys are way more focused and determined to do the little things right," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said Tuesday. "It opened guys’ eyes to realize that we all needed to bear down and be better if we were going to have a shot at winning.

"I think after that series, we all kind of did that."

Yes, the bear sure was poked. And the rest of the playoff contenders have been paying the price ever since.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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