BOSTON - They are still two wins away from their destination, but the Boston Bruins are gathering steam.
Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron scored second-period goals and Tuukka Rask made 28 saves Monday as the hard-charging Bruins blanked the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup final.
The Bruins were full value for their second straight win, coming out hard and crashing Chicago to erase memories of a sluggish first period in Game 2. Boston seemed bigger, faster and meaner on this night.
Even anthem singer Rene Rancourt seemed up for it, adding a few more degrees of difficulties to his litany of pre-game fist pumps and facial contortions. The TD Garden crowd of 17,565, Boston's 163rd straight sellout, ate it up.
History has Boston at the front of the NHL championship bus now. Teams winning Game 3 after splitting first two games of the final have gone on to win 21 of 25 times since the best-of-seven format began in 1939.
The Bruins improved to 4-0 in Game 3s this post-season while the Blackhawks fell to 0-4.
Boston isn't celebrating quite yet, however.
"We've still got a few more games to go," added Tyler Seguin.
Paille, the overtime hero of Game 2, opened the scoring for Boston as the Bruins' reshaped third line of Paille, Chris Kelly and Seguin paid dividends again. The trio accounted for both Boston goals in the Bruins' overtime victory in Game 2.
Bergeron then scored on the power play, with Paille and Kelly drawing the penalties that led to the goal. The Bruins forward was a one-man machine, with six shots in the first two periods alone. He also dominated faceoffs, winning 19 of 22 in the first 40 minutes.
The other Bruins did the little things too. Blocking shots. Winning faceoffs. Shrugging off Blackhawks like annoying little brothers. When the situation called for it, they just dumped the puck somewhere safe and regrouped.
The Bruins outshot Chicago 35-28 as Rask earned his third shutout of the playoffs. It marked just the second time in 2013 that the Blackhawks had been shut out.
"Tonight I thought we made it rather easy on (Rask) as far as traffic and finding and seeing pucks," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "I think we got to be better at going to the net in non-puck areas."
The Blackhawks will get a chance to do just that in Game 4, which goes Wednesday in Boston.
There was drama before the game as Chicago co-scoring leader Marian Hossa was a late scratch, replaced by Ben Smith after being injured in the warmup. That meant shelving a marquee player on a $7.9-million contract for a $550,000 forward who had played once this season.
"Marian Hossa out of the lineup after something apparently happened in warm-ups," tweeted the Hawks.
Quenneville later clarified that the injury had nothing to do with the warmup. Hossa has an upper-body injury, was a game-time decision and is listed day to day.
"We're hopeful he'll be ready for the next game," he said.
Still, it was a take-no-prisoners warmup. Boston coach Claude Julien said Chara suffered a small cut during warmup after losing an edge.
Bruins defenceman Dennis Seidenberg said later the ice was poor as hot, humid weather and a visit by the Rolling Stones last week probably didn't help matters.
Quenneville pointed to faceoffs and the power as the difference-makers. Boston won 40 of 56 faceoffs and Chicago went 0 for 5 with the man-advantage.
The Hawks have not scored a power-play goal in their last 20 chances dating to Game 2 of the Western Conference final. The Bruins, meanwhile, have killed off 27 straight penalties.
Quenneville, who had earlier decided to replace Brandon Bollig with Viktor Stalberg, shook up his lines like a frustrated Scrabble player. Captain Jonathan Toews surprisingly started with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik, while Smith opened with Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp.
But it was the Bruins, outshot 19-4 in the first period of Game 2, who came out in high gear. They had seven shots on Corey Crawford within the first five minutes.
And whenever Toews came over the boards, he found the giant shadow of Chara waiting.
Crawford, who would finish with 33 saves on the night, stopped Bergeron from in close. At the other end, the imperious Rask handled a blast from Duncan Keith.
Boston's Brad Marchand had a glorious chance on a breakaway on the penalty kill late in the period after somehow coralling a long Chara clearance. But he lost control of the puck just in front of Crawford and, showing his frustration, smashed his stick to pieces as he returned to the bench.
Boston killed off a pair of penalties in the first period. It was hard to say whether it was because the Bruins' penalty killing was so good or the Hawks' power play so bad.
Chicago clawed its way back as the first period wore on and managed 10 shots to Boston's 11 by the time it was over.
The Bruins controlled the faceoff circle, however, wining 17 of 22 in the first period.
Boston opened the second with another offensive burst and grabbed the lead. Paille was rewarded for some hard work at 2:13 in the Chicago end, lifting Bolland's stick to steal the puck and rifling a wrist shot past Crawford, who seconds earlier had stopped Seguin. It was Paille's fourth goal of the playoffs.
Prior to Game 3, the Blackhawks had only surrendered four power-play goals in 63 short-handed situations.
The Paille-Kelly-Seguin line now has seven points in the past two games with three goals and four assists.
When Chicago did get an opportunity, Rask was there. The big Finn stopped Patrick Kane cold after a Hawks defenceman found him cruising in alone.
Chicago had to kill off a brief 5-on-3 opportunity late in the second and Bergeron ripped a low shot in from the doorstep at 14:05 just seconds after Bolland, the first Hawk to escape the penalty box, tried to get back into the play. Bergeron's seventh of the post-season capped a nifty passing play.
Jaromir Jagr's sweet assist on the play moved the 41-year-old in sole possession of fifth place in all-time post-season scoring with 197 points (78 goals, 119 assists).
Bolland, for cross-checking, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, tripping, went off for hauling down Kelly and Paille, respectively, as they drove at the goal.
Like a hockey homage, Seguin almost recreated the Bergeron goal on another power play later in the period only to be stopped by Crawford. A frustrated Seguin put his stick between his teeth when the play ended as he pondered what might have been.
The Bruins held a 26-18 edge in shots after 40 minutes.
Boston, blunting the Chicago attack with whatever was needed, killed off two more penalties in the third to further frustrate the Hawks. The Bruins, meanwhile, almost made it 3-0 late in the game during another Bolland penalty.
Chicago's Bickell hit post in dying seconds as the Blackhawks pressed to get on the board but couldn't find a way past Rask.
Notes: It was Chicago's first visit to TD Garden since March 29, 2010, when the Bruins won 3-0. ... The first two games of the series lasted some 186 minutes, leaving both teams with one win and five goals ... Chicago started Viktor Stalberg in place of Brandon Bollig ... Tickets for Game 3 ranged from $325 to a corner balcony seat to $7,500 for a 12th-row centre-ice loge seat on StubHub earlier Monday ... The Bruins won all three of their home games in the 2010-11 final, outscoring the Canucks 17-3.