March 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) skates up ice with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bruins-Penguins : Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

 

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (1) VS BOSTON BRUINS (4), EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS 

 

Middletown, N. J.- There are plenty of side stories to keep fans all around the National Hockey League very much interested in the Eastern Conference finals set to begin on Saturday night at Consol Energy Center.

 

Nobody on either side of the rooting spectrum can forget the Matt Cooke hit that ended Marc Savard‘s career with the Bruins and now added to that drama is the presence of Jarome Iginla, picked up in a mid-season trade with the Calgary Flames. Iginla was apparently all set to go to the Bruins but at the last second decided against that, instead choosing to play with Sidney Crosby, figuring that would be his best chance at securing his first Stanley Cup championship.

The other questions surround the individual match-ups in the series. Can Tomas Vokoun, who might have just saved the entire Penguins season when he replaced Marc-Andre Fleury in game five of the first round, continue his solid if unspectacular play in the crease? Can Zdeno Chara, the most physically imposing defenseman in the entire league, shut down Crosby and the high-octane Pittsburgh offense? Can Tuukka Rask lead the Bruins to glory in his first full season as starting goaltender? What about the young, inexperienced Boston blueline behind Chara? Can they withstand the tremendous pressure that the all-star caliber forwards of the Pens will most certainly bring? And last but certainly not least is what could be Jaromir Jagr‘s last chance at the most prestigious silverware going against the club for which he made his mark.

All these questions will be answered starting with game one.

 

Series Schedule

  • Sat, June 1 @ Pittsburgh 8pm EST
  • Mon, June 3 @ Pittsburgh 8pm EST
  • Wed, June 5 @ Boston 8pm EST
  • Fri, June 7 @ Boston 8pm EST
  • Sun, June 9 @ Pittsburgh 8pm EST (If necessary)
  • Tue, June 11 @ Boston TBD (If necessary)
  • Wed, June 12 @ Pittsburgh TBD (If necessary)

Season Series

  • Mar 12 – Pens 3, Bruins 2
  • Mar 17 – Pens 2, Bruins 1
  • Apr 20 – Pens 3, Bruins 2

Why The Penguins Can Win

 

Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Offense, offense, offense…..With the firepower that the Penguins bring into each and every game, there is the potential for the team to score 4 goals and at times make it look very easy. Crosby is arguably the best player in the world but it is the supplemental cast that make the Pens so dangerous. Evgeni Malkin would be a number one center on 29 other teams in the league and Iginla, James Neal, Brenden Morrow, Chris Kunitz and Jussi Jokinen make the roster at times look like it should be playing in an all-star game.

The only thing that can slow the Pens is themselves. The defensive turnovers that hurt them in the first round against the New York Islanders did not rear their ugly head in the second round thrashing of the Ottawa Senators. Since Crosby’s return from a serious jaw injury, they have been relatively healthy. That is always paramount when you get this deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As we have seen in the other series around the league, the man behind the mask controls the destiny of many playoff hopefuls and can separate pretenders from true contenders.  Since entering the playoffs in game 5 of the first round, Tomas Vokoun has stabilized the Penguins, at the time, sinking ship. He is playing some of the best hockey of his career and enters this series with a 6-1 record, 1.85 goals against average and .941 save percentage. Those are the kind of numbers that move teams to the next round.

 

Why The Bruins Can Win

Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins are possibly the deepest team in the league from top to bottom. They can roll four lines with anyone and as they showed in their domination over the New York Rangers in the second round, any of those lines are capable of scoring.

The charge is led by Patrice Bergeron, perhaps the best defensive forward in the game, David Krejci. who has been reborn and is leading the Bruins in playoff scoring with 17 points in 12 games, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Jagr. As you can see by the names I just mentioned, this is not a lineup that will outscore you on a given night, but outwork, out-possess and plain grind you into the ground.

On defense, the mammoth Chara will have a job to do against one of the Penguins top lines and will more than likely do it effectively. He is more of a offensive threat than most give him credit for, possessing good vision and a booming shot from the point. Versatility played a huge roll in his game these playoffs as well as head coach Claude Julien‘s decision to plant Z in front of the Maple Leafs net in game seven of the opening round led to the tying goal and eventual series winner by Bergeron.

It is the rest of the Bruins defense that could be a little worrisome in this series. They lack experience as all eyes will be on them to contain the Penguins dynamic offense. Torrey Krug, Doug Hamilton (I refuse to call him Dougie) and Matt Bartowski will be counted on to continue to elevate their games, especially in their own zone.

 

Eyes Prediction

This series really could go either way but I honestly do not see the Bruins winning a shoot-out with the Penguins. If Boston’s youthful defense comes up big and continues their stellar play by limiting scoring chances and clogging up the neutral zone, this series turns quickly in Boston’s favor.

In my preview of the Bruins series against the Rangers, I had mentioned that this could be somewhat of a karmic year for Boston. After the very unlikely first round victory over Toronto and with the entire city on their back in the wake of the horrendous and heinous terrorist attack at the Boston marathon, the Bs could be feeling like they can’t lose. And when a team is brimming with confidence and has that kind of positive outlook on its future, it is hard to not envision a trip back to the Stanley Cup finals.

Bruins in six

 

-AG

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