The Pittsburgh Penguins are halfway to the ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup, but before they get to that point, they have to go through the Boston Bruins.
The Penguins dispatched the New York Islanders in six games in the first round before dominating the Ottawa Senators to advance to the Conference Finals in five games. The only thing preventing the Penguins from sweeping the series against Ottawa was a bad breakdown at the end of Game 3.
Regardless, the Penguins improved their level of play in the second round and overwhelmed the Senators with their depth. In the process, they made Craig Anderson look human, which was no small task considering how well he had played throughout the season.
If the Penguins want to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ll have to figure out a way to solve another hot goalie – Tuukka Rask.
From Jaromir Jagr, to Jarome Iginla and Matt Cooke, there will be no shortage of storylines in this series. Before we talk about the present, let’s look back at the past.
This will be the first time since 1992 that the two teams have met in the playoffs. That year, the Penguins swept the Bruins 4-0 en route to winning their second Stanley Cup.
It also marked the second straight season in which the two teams met in the Conference Finals. In 1991, the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in six games over the Bruins.
Prior to that, the two teams met in the first round in 1980 where Boston rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win the series 3-2. The Bruins won Game 4, 8-3 and Game 5, 6-2 to clinch the series.
In 1979, the Bruins swept the Penguins 4-0 in the second round before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiens in the Conference Finals.
Bruins At A Glance
Brad Marchand, also known as “The Little Ball of Hate,” led the Bruins with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in the regular season. His 18 goals were also a team high.
David Krejci was a close second with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists), while Patrice Bergeron (10 goals, 22 assists) and Tyler Seguin (16 goals, 16 assists) finished with 32 points each.
Krejci is also leading the entire league in the playoffs with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists).
In goal, Rask was stellar as the team’s number one goaltender this year. In 36 games, Rask posted a 19-10-5 record with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. Rask also had five shutouts this season.
How They Got Here
The Bruins’ first round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs was a complete roller coaster ride to say the least.
Boston jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, but consecutive 2-1 losses in Games 5 and 6 sent the series back to Beantown for a decisive Game 7.
In that game, the Leafs held a 4-1 lead in the third period, which somehow the Bruins were able to erase before winning in overtime.
This might explain that persistent coughing noise coming from north of the border over the past couple of weeks. (Sorry Leafs fans.)
In the second round, the Bruins found their stride and took advantage of a New York Rangers team that couldn’t score on an empty net if they were in the crease. (Not sorry Rangers fans.)
While Henrik Lundqvist did all he could to keep the Rangers alive, he can’t score. The Bruins eventually wore down the Rangers and advanced to the Conference Finals in five games.
Season Series (Home Team In Bold)
March 12 – Bruins 2, Penguins 3
March 17 – Bruins 1 – Penguins 2
April 20 – Penguins 3, Bruins 2
The Penguins outscored the Bruins 8-5 in the season series, but the margin of victory in each game was only one goal.
Brandon Sutter helped lift the Penguins to victory in the first meeting with two, third period goals. If you weren’t paying attention, you’d have thought you were watching a replay of his game-tying goal when he was actually giving the Penguins the lead.
His second goal of the game capped a furious comeback as the Penguins erased a 2-0 deficit in the third period.
For Boston, Zdeno Chara (one goal, two assists) and Tyler Seguin (three goals) led the way with three points each. Seguin scored in each of the three regular season games.
In goal, Rask was 0-2 with a 2.54 GAA and a .881 save percentage after allowing five goals on 42 shots.
For Pittsburgh, Chris Kunitz (one goal, two assists) and Jussi Jokinen (one goal, two assists) led the way with three points each as well. However, Jokinen only played in the game on April 20 after having been acquired at the trade deadline.
In goal, Tomas Vokoun was 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .958 save percentage after allowing only three goals on 72 shots.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Anton Khudobin were in goal for the first meeting of the season, while Vokoun and Rask were in net for the other two.
Rask is 1-4 with a 2.63 GAA and a .903 save percentage against the Penguins in his career.
As for Vokoun, he is 9-10-2 with one tie to go along with a 2.51 GAA and .930 save percentage against Boston. He has also shut the Bruins out twice.
As for special teams, the Bruins were 2-for-8 on the power play, while the Penguins were 2-for-11.
Goals by period: Bruins 4-0-1, Penguins 2-1-5
Players To Watch
For the Bruins, keep an eye on Seguin and Torey Krug.
As stated earlier, Seguin scored in each of the previous three meetings this season. However, he has struggled to light the lamp in the playoffs. He only has one goal and three assists, but it’s not for lack of trying as he has 45 shots on net in the playoffs.
As for Krug, he was called up for the Rangers series due to some injuries on the Bruins’ blue line. What did he do? The better question would be what did he not do?
Krug tortured the Rangers with four goals and one assist in five games. Three of those four goals were also scored on the power play. He’s a smooth skater and has an absolute cannon of a shot. Obviously, it’s not in the realm of Zdeno Chara (Who is?), but this 22-year-old defenseman does not look intimidated by the theater of the playoffs one bit.
For Pittsburgh, I’ve got my eye on Sutter and Cooke.
I really think this will be the series where Sutter comes into his own. He only has one goal and one assist so far in the playoffs, but his line has done a great job matching up against the opponent’s top line through the first two rounds. I’m not saying Sutter is going to explode on the score sheet here, but he will play a key role in shutting down Krejci and Co.
As for Cooke, he didn’t let any of the hoopla about the “Karlsson Incident” affect his game for any part of the five games against the Senators. He was in Ottawa’s head before the puck even dropped and remained firmly planted there for the duration of the series.
Now, he’ll be up against a Boston team where there is no love lost after his hit on Marc Savard in 2010. While he only has three assists in the playoffs, he played some of his best hockey as a Penguin as the Ottawa series wore on.
(Note: I had to condense their predictions to fit this article. If you’d like to see their full analysis & predictions, click here)
KDKA-TV Morning News Co-Anchor Rick Dayton:
Pittsburgh wins in 5 games. Here’s why:
At this stage of his career, few outside Allegheny County would argue Tomas Vokoun is a better goaltender than Finnish-born Tuukka Rask. Yet the numbers might not back up their claims.
Rask is just 1-4 in his career against the Penguins. In the 2013 playoffs, Vokoun has racked up six wins since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in the New York Islanders series. His goals against average is a paltry 1.85 with an impressive .941 save percentage. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Power Play & Penalty Kill
Safe to say the Penguins’ power play has been electric during the first two series against the Isles and Ottawa. Pittsburgh has been scoring at a 28.3 percent conversion rate with the man advantage. Conversely, the Bruins’ penalty kill has been a lowly 81 percent. If those trends continue, it is going to be a very long road for the B's. Advantage: Pittsburgh
"The Other Guys"
Boston has some guys who have racked up playoff points. David Krejci and Nathan Horton. Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic. All of them have double-digit point totals after a dozen games -- and Brad Marchand isn't far behind with nine points. The missing men have been Boston's third line. It has produced only one goal (the same number of goals Beau Bennett and Tanner Glass have scored for the Penguins this spring). The Bruins’ defensive corps and fourth liners have picked up the slack by scoring 11 goals, but the gaping void from the Bruins third line can't be ignored. Advantage: Pittsburgh
KDKA-TV Reporter Ross Guidotti:
Oh boy, is this thing going to be a fight to the death.
There’s a potential for a classic.
I look at the Bruins and I can’t help but think, ‘Where’s all this scoring coming from?’ They’re near the top of the league in the playoffs so far when it comes to lighting the red lamp.
What really blows my brain to bird seed is how many pucks are going in from their blue liners, especially that Torey Krug. The kid has been amazing. He’s not the next coming of Bobby Orr, but he’s impressive.
Matchups make the game. I see Patrice Bergeron being the man who shadows Sid while Geno and Chara are going to do some dancing down low.
Tuukka Rask’s had some blunders in net, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. If their forwards produce and take the body, the big bad Bruins have a good shot of beating the Pens.
Sidney Crosby is the greatest player on the planet!
Their offensive punch is amazing, they follow up Crosby with Malkin.
I worry about the Pens’ defense, but sometimes good goaltending can only save a scary defense from elimination for so long.
Tomas Vokoun is the hot horse. Keep riding, but please save me the “Fleury’s done, he’s a bum” talk. He’s a premier goaltender who has won big games and can do it again. And I hope they go to him and he proves those naysayers dead wrong.
It will go seven, but the Bruins win in a tight series.
KDKA-TV Sports Anchor Bob Pompeani:
This is the first time since 1945 that that Final Four in the Chase for the Stanley Cup are the last four winners of the Cup - (Los Angeles Kings in 2012), (Boston Bruins 2011), (Chicago Blackhawks 2010), and (Pittsburgh Penguins 2009).
It will make for two very hotly contested Conference Finals.
In the East, The Penguins are the favorites and should be as they are currently averaging over four goals per game in the post-season. The last team to do that and WIN a Cup was the Edmonton Oilers in 1990.
The big question in this series, can the Bruins stop the highly-skilled Penguins? They can IF Tuukka Rask plays like Jonathan Quick and IF the Bruins are disciplined enough to stay out of the penalty box. The Penguins’ power play has been lethal and can be the biggest difference in this series.
Aside from special teams, how will the Bruins stop two of the highest scoring lines in the playoffs? Evgeni Malkin missed all three regular season games with Boston, yet the Penguins still won all three.
You can expect to see a lot of the Bergeron line matched up against the Crosby line. Zdeno Chara will also be on the ice against Crosby and company as much as possible.
But, who then is responsible for the Malkin line? I don’t think Boston has an answer there.
Boston DOES have a terrific fourth line of Paille-Thornton-Campbell. So far, they have a combined six goals, four assists, and 38 hits. They are also a collective plus-13.
The wild card for Boston might very well be recent call up Torey Krug, who entered the NHL record books by recording four goals in his first five playoff games as a rookie. He's a blueliner who gives Boston an element they have not had, especially on the power play.
Overall, this will be a hard fought, physical series. Special teams will have a big effect. So will goaltending, but in my opinion, the Penguins simply have too much offense that Boston cannot match.
I like the Penguins to advance in six games and meet the Los Angeles Kings, who I suspect will continue to ride Jonathan Quick to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.
See you at the rink.
For me, this comes down to a couple of things. First, the Bruins do not have near the speed of the Islanders and are more on the level of team speed the Senators had.
However, what they lack in speed, they make up in physicality. They have a couple burners in Marchand, Seguin and Bergeron, but they are big up front and on the back line.
Ray Shero went out at the deadline to beef up the roster in more ways than one. Sure, he added to the potent scoring punch by adding Jarome Iginla. However, Iginla is a perfect combination of size and skill. The additions of Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow also added some size and sandpaper to the roster. It's almost as if Shero knew this matchup against the Bruins was coming. The Penguins were built to be able to win in a variety of ways. If you want to play a speed game, the Penguins have the skill to do so, if you want to play a physical game, the Pens can do that too.
The difference is that the Penguins' are more offensively gifted than their Bruins counterparts.
As long as the Penguins don't get wrapped up in running around trying to hit people and can ignore Marchand's pesky antics, they'll be fine in this series.
My big question mark for the Penguins is which defense are we going to see?
If it's the one that showed up for much of the Ottawa series and for Games 1 and 5 against the Islanders, there won't be any problems. If the loose and lackadaisical defense of Games 2-4 against the Islanders shows up, the Penguins will be in trouble. Ottawa only had a couple guys who could put the puck in the back of the net and the same could be said for the Islanders. However, Boston is by far the most offensively talented team the Penguins have seen in the playoffs and they can't afford to hang Vokoun out to dry like they did to Fleury in Round 1.
In the end and like the first two rounds, the Penguins' depth will eventually prevail and they will advance to the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
Game 1 – Bruins Vs. Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center – Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m.
Game 2 - Bruins Vs. Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center – Monday, June 3 at 8 p.m.
Game 3 – Penguins Vs. Bruins at TD Garden – Wednesday, June 5 at 8 p.m.
Game 4 – Penguins Vs. Bruins at TD Garden – Friday, June 7 at 8 p.m.
*Game 5 – Bruins Vs. Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center – Sunday, June 9 at 8 p.m.
*Game 6 – Penguins Vs. Bruins at TD Garden – Tuesday, June 11 – TBD
*Game 7 – Bruins Vs. Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center – Wednesday, June 12 – TBD
(* denotes if necessary)
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