Penguins will be Bruins’ biggest challenge yet
I’m terrified of the Pittsburgh Penguins. We’re still a solid three days away from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals featuring the Pens and the Bruins, but Sidney Crosby‘s face is already haunting my dreams.
And yet, the Bruins fans around me don’t seem to share my fears. Maybe it’s a false sense of confidence after a 3-1 series final against the New York Rangers, and maybe it’s just blind hope.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the playoffs can sometimes feel like an entirely different season. I’m not saying I don’t think the Bruins are capable of winning, I’m simply listing some facts about Pittsburgh that make me think this entire series might be as excruciatingly painful as Game 7 against Toronto before the comeback and during those awful minutes before overtime.
The first worrisome stat is the fact that the Bruins haven’t won a game against Pittsburgh this season. They played three times; on March 12 the Penguins won 3-2, on March 17 they won 2-1, and on April 20 they won 3-2. The encouraging thing here is that all three losses came at only a one-goal deficit, but it doesn’t exactly send anyone into this series thinking about rainbows and butterflies.
Up front, the Penguins aren’t lacking. You’ve got Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal, not to mention Jarome Iginla. The Iginla storyline (expected to be traded from Calgary to Boston, last-minute switch to Pittsburgh) is a non-issue. The drama behind the uniform he’s wearing now shouldn’t factor into the series at all, but his experienced play on the ice certainly could.
This Pittsburgh team is absolutely going to test the Bruins’ depth at forward, and that’s because they can easily match it. The Bruins has shown their fourth line can step up, but what about guys playing on the other three lines who have yet to really turn it on in these playoffs? The play of Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand could be paramount in this series. If they return to form and start making more contributions, it might be enough – coupled with sustained success from the usual suspects and solid goaltending from Rask – to push the Bruins over the edge. Jaromir Jagr hasn’t scored a goal yet this postseason and is due for some offensive production as well. Marchand, Seguin, and Jagr weren’t producing at the end of the Toronto series, and that hasn’t changed much a series later. Even with some line changes since then, including Seguin now on the third line with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, they’ve still struggled to make things click.
On the blue line for Pittsburgh, there’s Kris Letang, a finalist for the Norris trophy – awarded to the league’s best overall defenseman. Behind him is Tomas Vokoun in goal, who has played well but isn’t who the Pens expected to have in goal this time of year. When Marc Andre Fleury failed against the Islanders back in the first round, Vokoun was thrust into starting position. In seven postseason games played, he has a 1.85 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Those stats are good, but this is still one aspect of the game which gives the Bruins some breathing room. Tuukka Rask has played every game of the playoffs with a 2.22 goals against average and a .928 save percentage, not to mention he’s been the Bruins’ starting goaltender all year. Rask is the superior netminder here … he’ll just have to play like it.
Defensively, the Bruins are in good shape even despite a plethora of injuries, but the issue lies in where to match up the top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. At first glance, you’d want Chara up against Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis. The issue here is that Pittsburgh’s second line is just as dangerous with Neal, Malkin, and Iginla. The top line has combined for 34 points, but the second line is actually topping that with 36 points.
Even for the casual fan who might not understand the line pairings here, just think of the amount of names on that Pittsburgh roster that they recognize. That alone should be a testament to the depth of talent the Penguins boast.
The Penguins are good. The Penguins are scary good. Let’s just hope there’s someone in Pittsburgh thinking the same thing about the Bruins. They say to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. If that isn’t the ideal slogan for this series, I’m not sure what is.