The Boston Bruins are on such a mission that they didn't even take a detour on the way to the Stanley Cup Final. By winning their seventh game in a row, they might be peaking in mid-May.
Goalie Tuukka Rask sent the Bruins to the final round with a 24-save outing Thursday night in a 4-0 victory against the host Carolina Hurricanes for a sweep of the Eastern Conference finals. Patrice Bergeron scored twice after David Pastrnak opened the scoring. The first two goals came on power plays. Pastrnak assisted on both Bergeron goals, and then Brad Marchand notched an empty-net goal with 2:17 left.
The best part might be that the Bruins have done this without much prodding. "It's not like we have to beat it into them. They know what's at stake," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It's always an easier message coming from within. They appreciate it more from the guys who are in the trenches with them."
By taking the best-of-seven series in four games, the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013, when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. Boston's last NHL title came in 2011. The Bruins await the winner of the Western Conference finals, in which the San Jose Sharks hold a 2-1 lead over the St. Louis Blues.
The Hurricanes hadn't been to the playoffs since 2009, and that run also ended with a sweep in the conference finals (by the Pittsburgh Penguins). They were hoping to force Game 5 back in Boston on Saturday night. The Bruins had other ideas.
"That's what we came here for," Cassidy said of not allowing the Hurricanes to extend the series. The Bruins trailed in each of the first two postseason series. But there were few cracks against Carolina, much of that stemming from a team capable of handling various situations.
"It's important for any good team, and we've had that leadership for a while," defenseman Torey Krug said. The Bruins looked solid throughout the lineup in the conference finals.
"That's why they're a good team. It's not really about one line, even though they have a great line," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said, referencing the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio. "They've got four good lines that they can roll out there. They're not afraid to put anybody against anybody." Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney made 19 saves in his second start of the series. He was pulled with about 5 1/2 minutes left, and the extra skater didn't help.
The Hurricanes had been splendid in winning all five of their home playoff games until Rask arrived this week, first starring Tuesday night in Boston's 2-1 victory. "Their goalie gets paid to play this game, too," Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin said.
Hurricanes fans gave a rousing send-off, showing an appreciation for the team's unexpected postseason charge. The Bruins had the first ideal scoring chance, with Marchand's shot on a rebound denied by McElhinney in the first period.
Pastrnak's seventh goal of the postseason came when Marchand returned a pass to him at 4:46 of the second period. It was the sixth power-play goal of the series for Boston. The Hurricanes had several sequences of extended time in the Boston zone in the second before Bergeron converted on the power play with 1:26 remaining in the period.
Carolina had just four second-period shots and one through the first 10 minutes of the third period. Bergeron notched his eighth goal of the postseason at 10:32 of the third period and Marchand added his seventh.
Boston played without defenseman Zdeno Chara, who was a penalty-killing standout in Game 3. The team listed him as day-to-day due to an undisclosed injury, as his streak of 98 consecutive playoff games for the Bruins came to an end. John Moore took his spot. Still, Chara had a role. He came onto the ice in uniform at the end of the game to join the celebration.
The Bruins put centre Noel Acciari in the lineup on the fourth line for his 12th game of the postseason to fill in for right winger Chris Wagner, who was out because of an arm injury sustained late in Game 3. "It's all business from here on out," Acciari said. "We're all focused and I think that's why we've been successful lately."
(With inputs from agencies.)