The stingy defense the Boston Bruins played all season was even better in the first round of the playoffs.
No wonder three of their defensive stars have been chosen as finalists for NHL awards.
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And a clean sweep of the regular-season prizes is possible: Zdeno Chara for the Norris Trophy given to the best defenseman, Patrice Bergeron for the Selke Trophy that goes to the top defensive forward, and Tuukka Rask for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the best goalie.
The Bruins allowed the second-fewest goals in the regular season, then limited the Detroit Red Wings to just six goals in five games in the opening round.
The Montreal Canadiens should pose a stiffer challenge after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in their best-of-seven series. But Boston, especially its defense, is peaking at the right time.
”I want to be always strong defensively and take care of my zone before I jump up and help the offense,” said Chara, who won the Norris Trophy in 2008-09 and was nominated Monday.
With his size and reach, the 6-foot-9 Chara is a big problem for opposing forwards. And if they get by him and the other skaters, they’ll have to deal with Rask, who led the NHL with seven shutouts, was second in save percentage and fourth in goals against average.
Being nominated, ”is great recognition. but everybody knows we’re a team-first team and this is something that comes after the biggest trophy,” Rask said. ”You don’t get these nominations or wins for the trophies without your teammates.”
Bergeron got his nomination on Thursday and Rask on Friday. On Saturday, the Bruins beat the Red Wings 4-2 to clinch the first-round series in Detroit. The second-round schedule hasn’t been announced, but the Bruins will be home for the first two games against the Canadiens.
The Bruins and Canadiens will meet for an NHL-record 34th playoff series. Boston lost three of the four games, including both at home, against Montreal in the regular season.
Montreal is known for its speed, but so was Detroit.
But the Bruins have some fast skaters themselves and general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien get tired of hearing they’re the slower team.
That is a ”stereotype,” Chiarelli said. ”I understand when you bring it up in the context of the Wings and now the Canadiens because they’re both fast teams (but) it’s about closing gaps more quickly. It’s about establishing a forecheck and leaning on guys. It’s about our special teams.”
And it’s about team depth and complete players, like Bergeron. He tied for the Bruins’ lead with 30 goals, the second time in his career he’s had at least 30, and he was the NHL’s third-best faceoff man this season.
”There’s no individual awards that don’t go without the help of all your teammates,” said Bergeron, he won the Selke Trophy in 2011-2012 and has been nominated for the third straight season. ”I have other things on my mind right now, which is the playoffs.”
The Bruins’ defense got a boost Tuesday when fourth-line wing Daniel Paille, one of their fastest players, was cleared to play after missing the Detroit series with an apparent concussion, which would be his third of the season.
”It feels good to be out there with the guys for a full practice,” Paille said. ”I believe I could’ve (played) midway through the last series.”
Dennis Seidenberg, who plays on the top defense pairing with Chara, took part in his first practice with the team since tearing knee ligaments in late December and having surgery on Jan. 7. But it’s unlikely he will play unless the Bruins go deep into the playoffs.
But their defensive play has been outstanding without him – from Rask in goal to Chara on defense and Bergeron at center.
”Playing against top lines, I want to do it the right way,” Chara said. ”I always take a lot of pride in my defensive game.”