At last, B's, Pens set to square offBy STEVE CONROY
May 31. 2013 8:24PM
Bruins vs. Penguins
|1979: Bruins, 4, Penguins 0 (Stanley Cup quarterfinals)|
|1980: Bruins 3, Penguins 2 (Preliminary series)|
|1991: Penguins 4, Bruins 2 (Prince of Wales Conference championship)|
|1992: Penguins 4, Bruins 0 (Prince of Wales Conference championship)|
|2013 PLAYOFF STATS|
|PIMs per game||9.5||15.1|
In an extraordinary press conference to address Jarome Iginla's decision to nix a trade to the Bruins in favor of one to the Penguins, B's general manager Peter Chiarelli was presented with just how good the team from Pittsburgh had become.
The Pens already had added some grit up front with Brenden Morrow and some beef on the back end with Douglas Murray. They would also trade for Jussi Jokinen. All that would be added to a Pittsburgh galaxy of stars that included Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang.
"Well, they're a lock, right?" chirped Chiarelli, his competitive juices seeping through his usual lawyerly veneer.
Now Chiarelli's team has its chance to make the Pens' wheeling and deadline dealing all for naught. But it won't be easy. After an initial scare against the Islanders, the Pens made mincemeat out of the Senators' previously stingy defense and goaltending, scoring 22 goals in their five-game Eastern Conference semifinals series.
The conference final could be a nasty series. While it took the Bruins and Rangers the final game of the previous round to get some grumpiness going, it shouldn't take so long with the Pens. There's the fact that Iginla spurned Boston for Pittsburgh. There's the fact that the Pens' two best players, Crosby and Malkin, are not exactly angels on the ice. There's Matt Cooke, who needs no explanation.
And while it's not quite Bruins-Canadiens, there is a historical element to this matchup that dates back to the Cam Neely-Mario Lemieux playing days in the 1990s, when the two team executives were in their heyday until an Ulf Samuelsson knee sent Neely to an early retirement. The Pens beat the B's twice in the conference finals on their way to the Cup in '91 and '92.
These two teams seemed to be on a collision course this season, and — finally — they're ready to collide, beginning tonight at 8.
Here's what the matchups look like:
Bruins: (1) Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton; (2) Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Jaromir Jagr; (3) Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin; (4) Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton
Penguins: (1) James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla; (2) Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis; (3) Matt Cooke Brandon Sutter Tyler Kennedy; (4) Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Craig Adams
Skinny: Championship teams are supposed to be built from the goalie out. A solid backstopper and a stout defense are usually the rocks upon which great teams are built.
There are exceptions, however, and Pittsburgh could be one of them. The Pens are averaging 4.27 goals a game, making them the first team since 1997 to advance through the first two rounds while averaging more than four goals (Colorado and Philadelphia did that in '97), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.) If they can keep up that four-plus goal pace and win a Cup, they'd be the first team since the 1990 Edmonton Oilers to do so. But another traditional tenet of championship teams that the Pens do follow is they are strong down the middle. Crosby-Malkin is the best one-two punch of this generation while Sutter and Jokinen are excellent for where they're slotted. On the wings, Kunitz is underrated, Dupuis is having a career year, Neal has been a beast and Iginla is rejuvenated.
The best defense for the B's will be a good offense. They have to make the Pens play in their own zone, where they can be vulnerable. The Krejci line needs to impose its strength on the forecheck, with Lucic stapling D-men to the end boards. And the Bergeron line, which will surely see plenty of the Crosby line, needs its cycle game going. It would be nice to get a goal or two from the third line. Seguin seemed on the verge of explosion by the end of the Rangers series and he needs to show up in this one. The Rangers tried in vain to cancel out the B's fourth line, but this should be a very competitive matchup.
Bruins: (1) Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg; (2) Matt Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk; (3) Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid
Penguins: (1) Mark Eaton, Kris Letang; (2) Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin; (3) Douglas Murray, Matt Niskanen
Skinny: While Seidenberg and Chara will most likely have their hands full with the Malkin line, the Crosby line — the best line in the NHL in the regular season — will be a tall order for Boychuk and Pittsburgh native Bartkowski. That duo should get some help from the Bergeron line, however.
While his offensive skills make him a Norris Trophy-worthy candidate, Letang is beatable in his own end. Martin is a solid, two-way defenseman, while Orpik gives the Pens a little bit of an intimidation factor with his big hits. Murray has looked a little slow at times.
The X-factor in this series could be Krug. While a highly regarded prospect, no one expected him to have the kind of impact he had on the Rangers series. The B's have not had this kind of puck-lugging defenseman since Dennis Wideman in the 2008-09 season, when the B's were second in the league in offense. When he's not scoring, Krug is at least getting shots through and creating rebounds. One just has to wonder when or if the experience will show in both Krug and Bartkowski.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask, Anton Khudobin
Penguins: Tomas Vokoun, Marc-Andre Fleury
Skinny: When the playoffs began, it looked like this might be a huge advantage for the B's, but Vokoun has stabilized Pittsburgh's goaltending after taking over for the floundering Fleury during the Islanders series. He's among the top three in playoff save percentage (.941) and goals against average (1.85). Those are big improvements over his regular-season numbers (.919, 2.45) and it'll be interesting to see how long he can keep it up. Also, most of those numbers were built primarily against the offensively challenged Senators.
Rask's playoff save percentage is just a hair off from his regular-season mark (.928 vs. .929) while his goals against is down to 2.22 from 2.00. But Rask got over a mental hump in closing out the Rangers and proved his mettle by putting his disastrous Game 4 behind him. The team in front of him is playing better now than when the playoffs began against the high-scoring Maple Leafs.
Bruins: Claude Julien
Penguins: Dan Bylsma
Skinny: Bylsma pulled a talented team out of the doldrums and led them to the Cup when he was a mid-season replacement for Michel Therrien in 2009. Since then, due in part to injuries and bad goaltending, he hasn't made it back to the conference final until this year, losing three straight seasons to lower seeds. This year, he's been handed some good health and an All-Star roster. So far he's managed lofty expectations well.
Julien, for some reason a lightning rod for criticism, has his team in the conference finals for the second time in three years with a Cup on his resume. Few may want to hear this but, like Bylsma, he's one of the best coaches in the NHL.
Skinny: For the first time in forever, the power play is not the Bruins' Achilles' heel, thanks in large part to the emergence of Krug, who has three of the team's seven power-play goals. But the Pens are frighteningly good, notching 13 goals in 46 opportunities in the playoffs.
While the B's were a much better penalty-killing team in the regular season, the Pens have cleaned up that part of their game considerably in the playoffs and are ranked higher than the B's.
The pick: Penguins in 7