Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bruins vs. Penguins

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Finals (Round 3)

The Matchup: #4 Boston Bruins vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins

Series Schedule:

Game 1: Sat. June 1, 8 PM @ Pittsburgh

Game 2: Mon. June 3, 8 PM @ Pittsburgh

Game 3: Wed. June 5, 8 PM @ Boston

Game 4: Fri. June 7, 8 PM @ Boston

Game 5: *Sun. June 9, 8 PM @ Pittsburgh

Game 6: *Tue. June 11, TBD @Boston

Game 7: *Wed. June 12, TBD @ Pittsburgh

Regular Season Meetings:

March 12- Penguins defeat Bruins 3-2

March 17- Penguins defeat Bruins 2-1

April 20- Penguins defeat Bruins 3-2

The Need to Know:

These two conference foes have not met in the playoffs since 1992. They have hooked up on four different occasions in the postseason, each coming away with two series wins. Pittsburgh last won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and Boston obviously took home the hardware in 2011.

Both the Bruins and Penguins wrapped up their second round match-ups in five games, respectively knocking off the Rangers and Senators in convincing fashion. Boston showcased a heavy, physical, rugged style of play in knocking out New York. Pittsburgh on the other hand utilized its tremendous offensive firepower in blowing by Ottawa.

These teams are vastly different in style, yet their formula for success is ever so similar. Boston utilizes a strong north-south attack. They aim to establish a net front presence, crash the net, and dump pucks in deep, while setting up an effective cycle. They check, hit, and bring it with conviction in all three zones. Claude Julien’s defensive mentality wears on opponents, as Boston boasts on of the best blue-lines in the NHL. Night in and night out the Bruins are most successful when they role four lines, utilizing excellent team depth.

As for Pittsburgh, well, they rely more on their star power up front. They have world-class speedsters, scorers, and playmakers scattered throughout their top lines. The Penguins are offensively driven and have the capability of hitting homerun plays at any time. Their forwards will look to run and gun, unlike Boston’s methodical approach. Defensively, Pittsburgh is solid, but is also a bit more susceptible than Boston. Really the only glaring difference is Zdeno Chara. Like Julien, Dan Bylsma has superb depth at his disposal.

Pittsburgh won all three regular seasons meetings. Each game was one by a single goal. Despite their success, it really means nothing at this point in the year. Boston was in a funk when those losses took place and have found their stride now, winning 5 of 6 playoffs games.

This series will be determined by whichever team dictates the pace of play. Boston will look to slow the game down and turn it into a grind it out slugfest, where as Pittsburgh is hoping to turn things into a track meet.

The storylines are in place and bad blood certainly exists between these two clubs. Obviously Jarome Iginla will be the center of attention, considering he snubbed Boston at the trade deadline for Pittsburgh. Former Penguin great Jaromir Jagr is now dawning the Spoked-B and will be looking to snap out off a rut that has been plaguing him. Both Iginla and Jagr are aging greats and are in search of one final shot at glory.

You better believe Matt Cooke will be in the Bruins crosshairs. The Black-and-Gold won’t admit to it publically, but their enforcers will be keeping a close eye on him. Cooke is known to be a dirty player and is hated for his despicable hit on Marc Savard. If he steps out of line, sparks could fly.

With everything aside, this series looks to provide for some spectacular hockey. Two of the deepest teams in the NHL will be squaring off and it could really go either way. Who ever emerges as victors from this battle will be undoubtedly deserving of a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. One thing is for sure though; each side is experienced and understands exactly what it takes to win. Buckle up and enjoy because it will be a wild ride.

The Boston Forwards:

Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton make up the Bruins top line and are the most productive when it comes to scoring the puck. David Krejci leads the NHL with 17 points this postseason. The trio has combined for a total of 13 goals, 26 assists, and a +32 rating. Lucic and Horton use their size in carving out space and generally get to wherever they please.

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Jaromir Jagr serve as the second line and excel in dominating the puck. Bergeron owns the face-off circles and has built up a great deal of chemistry with Marchand. Jagr is still looking to breakout out of a playoff slump. Though he does possess brilliant puck handling skills. The defensive play of Bergeron will be key in shutting down the Penguins offense. Marchand brings the attitude.

Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, and Tyler Seguin are an interesting group and are used as the third line. Peverley and Kelly excel on the defensive end and on the penalty kill, where as Tyler Seguin has game changing offensive ability. Seguin may be able to utilize his speed in beating some of Pittsburgh’s slower defensemen.

Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, and Shawn Thornton are arguably Boston’s hardest working line. They play the role of the fourth line but in essence are much more talented than that. They utilize speed, grit, and toughness and often times prove too much to handle for the opposing team. They are in no way flashy, but they get the job done with a blue-collar style of play and energize the Bruins in doing so.

The Pittsburgh Forwards:

Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, and Pascal Dupuis are the Penguins top line. Like Boston’s top line, they have been equally as dominant. Both Crosby and Dupuis have 7 goals apiece this postseason. Crosby is a duel threat and can score it as well as pass it. Kunitz benefits mightily from playing alongside Crosby and has a wealth of offensive talent. Boston will be assigning a great deal of manpower to Crosby.

James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla skate on the Penguins second line and are just as dangerous as their top line. Each guy can light it up offensively. Neal has 6 goals and Malkin is second in the NHL in scoring with 16 points. Iginla has registered 12 points and cannot be forgotten about.

Brenden Morrow, Brandon Sutter, and Matt Cooke make up the third line. Morrow brings veteran leadership, Sutter has offensive pop, and Matt Cooke is a big body that is not afraid to crash the net. This is yet another line that commands attention and can light the lamp.

Tyler Kennedy, Joe Vitale, and Craig Adams serve as the fourth line. Kennedy is riding a hot streak and has been finding twine of late. He has responded in a big way since being reinserted into the lineup. Vitale is Pittsburgh’s tough guy and is always willing to drop the gloves. Craig Adams is a solid player that plays an integral role on the Pens penalty kill.

The Boston Defense:

Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg anchor the Bruins blue line. They always matchup against the oppositions best players and generally excel in shutting them down. They will have their hands full in defending Crosby, but should be up for the task. Zdeno Chara shuts down half the ice himself and pitches in offensively. He has 2 goals, 9 assists, and averages over 29-minutes of TOI. Seidenberg is as fundamentally sound as they come and is vastly underrated league wide.

Johnny Boychuk and Matt Bartkowski skate on the second pairing. Boychuk is as versatile as they come. He is an offensive threat, as he packs a rocket of a slapper and has 4 goals. Boychuk also ranks atop the league in shot blocking. His relentless nature places him on the ice in all sorts of situations. Bartkowski is a rookie and has done a brilliant job in filling in for the injured Andrew Ference. He is confident in his decision-making and has shown little weakness.

Adam McQuaid and Torey Krugg make up the third line pairing. McQuaid instills a sense of calmness and confidence because of his experience. His veteran leadership and tougness make him a dependable option. Krug is one of the more intriguing players in this series. He had a breakout performance in his playoff debut, notching four goals against New York. Krug has a lethal shot, skates like the wind, and poses a consistent offensive threat. That’s not to mention the terrific defensive responsibility he shows.

The Pittsburgh Defense:

Kris Letang and Mark Eaton are the Penguins top line pairing. Eaton’s game won’t excite many people but he is a fabulous all around defender who compliments Letang nicely. But it’s Letang by far who makes the defense tick. He is not only more than adequate defensively, but also is an offensive playmaker. Letang lets it fly without hesitation and has 13 assists this post season. His biggest threat to the Bruins may come on the power play though. Because of his versatility, he tends to join the rush and fire accurate bullets on goal. This pairing can be susceptible to getting burnt because of Letang’s tendency to pinch in deep.

Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin make up the Penguins second line pairing. Orpik is a big body that plays a rough style and packs a heavy shot. He lays deflating checks and serves as a shut down type guy. Paul Martin has quietly developed into an offensive threat and has 2 goals to go along with 9 points already. These two are more than capable and hold their own very well in stifling opposing forwards.

Douglas Murray and Matt Niskanen pair up on the Penguins third line. They are one of the more unique groupings. Douglas Murray is a slower, heavy hitting d-man, where as Matt Niskanen is speedier and more offensively inclined. Niskanen, like Letang, is a threat with the puck on his stick and thrives in power play situations. Murray on the other hand can inflict some serious damage if he is able to line up a check. Though this pairing by no means is a lock down type.

The Goaltending:

Tuukka Rask is one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL and has been beyond stellar thus far for the Bruins. In fact, Rask has been unbelievable. He leads the league with 8 playoff wins and posted a 1.86 GAA against the Rangers.

His play has surely reassured everyone that the infamous 2010 collapse is long in the rear view and that the Bruins are indeed his team. Rask is destined to make history of his own after spending the past few seasons behind the great Tim Thomas.

Rask has been calm, cool, and collected throughout the playoffs thus far. If the Bruins are to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, it will definitely be because of his outstanding efforts.

Thomas Vokoun roams the crease for Pittsburgh. He has been a pleasant surprise to many since taking over Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury suffered a break down in his play against the Islanders in the opening round. The Isles pushed the Penguins into a tough spot and Dan Bylsma summoned Vokoun.

Vokoun stepped in and has been near perfect since. His sparkling play has been overshadowed by the onslaught of their offense. He is 6-1 with 1.85 GAA as the Pittsburgh starter.

Ottawa really did not test Vokoun all too much in the second round. The real challenge will be whether or not he can withstand the dynamic Boston attack. As of right now, Vokoun has given Bylsma little reason to even consider Fleury.

What to Watch For:

Can the Bruins penalty kill slow down the Penguins power play?

Boston boasted the league’s best penalty killing unit for the majority of the regular season. The have faltered a bit of late, but Patrice Bergeron and company are not at all worried.

Pittsburgh fires on all cylinders when it comes to the man advantage. Seven different Penguins have scored a total of 13 power play goals.

The Bruins must find a way to slow them down and keep play at 5-on-5.

X-Factors:

For Boston it will be Tyler Seguin. The Bruins will need all hands on deck in order to match the Penguins. Seguin has seemed to have found his game after failing to find that net in the opening 10 playoff games. He struck in game 6 versus the Rangers. His minutes may be down but his confidence is high, as he believes in himself. The youngster will play a key role and has the elite abilities needed to perform at a high rate.

For the Penguins it will be Sidney Crosby. Crosby is considered to be on of the best players on the planet. With that being said, Claude Julien will be sure to make his life miserable. Expect Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, and Dennis Seidenberg to be shadowing his every move. It will ultimately come down to whether or not Crosby can find a way to out smart the Bruins counter attack. It won’t be easy and will surely make for a marquee matchup within the game itself.

My Prediction:

I am a firm believer that Claude Julien’s defensive system will pay dividends in this series. The Bruins will come together as a team, similarly to the way they took out the Canucks in 2011, and create a roadblock for the Penguins star players. Tuukka Rask will show the world how talented he really is. Boston’s top line will impose their will. They will beat up the Penguins with a hard-nosed assault and take the series in seven games.

Frank O’Laughlin – Lead NHL Contributor – TitleTown Sports

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