By Sean Hartnett
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The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins went to war following TD Garden anthemist Rene Rancourt's booming rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Once the puck was dropped, an epic Game 3 unfolded.
I hope you stayed up to watch the double-overtime finish. This game had all the hallmarks of what makes playoff hockey truly remarkable. It took 94 shots and unrestrained desire to decide the outcome of a game that could have either swung the momentum back in Pittsburgh's direction or brought the Pens one step away from elimination.
With 4:41 separating the teams from a third overtime, Bruins fans burst into wild celebrations after hanging nervously on every moment. The anguish and dejection was evident in the face of Sidney Crosby, the iconic captain of the Penguins as he skated off the ice.
Pittsburgh riffled 54 shots at Bruins' rock-solid netminder Tuukka Rask and the Finnish goaltender only buckled once when Chris Kunitz's one-timer tied the game at 8:51 in the second period. Rask fended off wave after wave of pressure and appears to be on his way to etching his name in playoff lore.
BERGERON AGAIN DELIVERS CLUTCH HEROICS
A player whose name has become synonymous with playoff heroics -- Patrice Bergeron -- lifted the Bruins to the 2-1 double overtime victory after every player on the ice emptied their tanks. Had Bergeron not beaten Tomas Vokoun with a perfectly guided shot, these teams would have been perfectly content to battle into the early hours of the morning.
Jaromir Jagr forced Evgeni Malkin to cough up the puck near the benches and Bergeron and Marchand used their telepathic abilities to combine for the goal that put the Penguins into an 0-3 series hole.
"That's what happens when you've been together for three years, as a duo anyways, they've learned to play with each other extremely well," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. "Obviously Jags made a big play in front of their bench to get the puck to them, but, it's about driving the net, and Bergy drove hard and had a guy on him and managed to get his stick in the right place and March made a great play."
GUTSY CAMPBELL PLAYS THROUGH BROKEN LEG TO FINISH PENALTY KILL
If there was one moment that summed up the level of competitiveness between the two teams, it was Bruins center Gregory Campbell stepping up and throwing himself in the line of fire when Evgeni Malkin wound up and blasted a slap shot from the point.
Campbell pushed through the pain barrier, limping on for 46 seconds to help kill off the Penguins' power play. The entire building gave him a tremendous standing ovation as he hobbled to the bench on one leg, chanting Campbell's name in appreciation.
It was later revealed that Campbell had broken his right leg on the play. His playoffs are over after unselfishly giving up his body for the team.
"He showed a lot of guts to stay out there and to still try and play," Julien said. "Obviously it was a pretty serious injury, so that's just the kind of player he is, and it doesn't surprise me, it doesn't surprise his teammates, but certainly it shows the character of that player, and that's why we appreciate having him on our team."
PITTSBURGH DEALT BITTER BLOW
The Penguins have been criticized for unorganized defending and poor coverage in their own zone and sub-par goaltending all playoffs. They deserved to be down 0-2 in the series heading into Game 3.
This wasn't the reason why Pittsburgh dropped Game 3 as both Vokoun and the Penguins collectively buckled down to tighten up and held the Bruins to just four shots in the third period.
The Pens did a lot of things right in Game 3, yet they're staring at the prospect of a four-game sweep. Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma isn't ready to count out his team even if their backs are against the wall.
"You know, we're competing in the Conference Final for a chance to win and go to the Stanley Cup, and that's where we're going to be," Bylsma stated confidently. "We're down 3-0, we have lost the first three games, and we're going to battle and lay it out there, and we threw it at them tonight and didn't get the win, but we are going to -- it's a race to 4, and they're not there yet, and we're going to come back in here, regroup and go after Game 4."
Neither team scored a power play goal, which was unusual given the 11 combined power play opportunities. Pittsburgh's stars will probably look back and point to their 0-for-6 power play in Game 3 should the Bruins complete the sweep on Thursday.
THEY'LL DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN ON FRIDAY
Game 3 was everything that makes playoff hockey a unique drama unlike any other in professional sports. I'm betting Game 4 between these two teams will be more of the same. These two teams will leave all on the ice until one team is presented the Prince of Wales trophy.
Beloved Canadian folksinger Stompin' Tom Connors famously sang that "The good old hockey game is the best game you can name, and the best game you can name is the good old hockey game."
Stompin' Tom passed away this March. Had he been around to witness Game 3 of Bruins-Pens, he would've had a wide smile on his face. Who's to argue with his proclamation that hockey is indeed "the best game you can name."
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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