Black, Gold (or Yellow) and White are the colours both teams in the Eastern Conference finals will dawn. This is where both the friendship and similarities end. When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins step on the ice for Round 3 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs it could well be the best series of the entire event. It is quite likely that this will be the spectacle, the final itself reading like a sort of denouement.
Why does this series stand out in a final four that includes the last four Stanley Cup Champions? Storylines, incredibly epic storylines. The best in the film industry must have had some sort of say in the plotline of these playoffs because this matchup is as dramatic a scene as any. It could well be a blockbuster, but no Hollywood will make its way into this affair. There is no underdog, both teams are favourites in their own right.
Evidently, the leading storyline in this entire saga is the ongoing Jarome Iginla/Brenden Morrow affair. Both players chose the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Boston Bruins, who were interested in their services as well. Iginla is the main headliner, and there will be plenty of bad blood when he sets foot in TD Gardens for a minimum of Games 3 and 4. A lot of attention will be on the former Calgary Flames Captain, and he should deliver if his career results in the Playoffs and Olympics are any indication of how he will handle the big stage. That said, in chasing the elusive Stanley Cup, every game at this point is potentially the biggest of his storied career.
The next storyline in this series is the incredibly dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins offensive unit. This is a squad so deep that they sat a healthy Canadian Olympian for games during the last round. It had nothing to do with the fact that he wasn’t good enough. Coach Dan Bylsma is correct in saying this is by far the deepest forward group in the league and they have demonstrated it incredibly effectively so far these playoffs. The team has the best goals per game in the playoffs with 4.27 and Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby sit 2,3,4 in scoring. Zdeno Chara will have a very difficult time stopped all of these offensive threats as he has in past series. He is going to need plenty of help on the Boston blueline.
However it could be another Penguin who ends up stealing the show. James Neal, who sits at number 15 in playoff scoring, has been the hottest player in the league as of late. His performances in the last two games of the Ottawa series insured that his club didn’t have to play any excess games. With six goals he trails only Patrick Sharp and teammates Crosby and Pascal Dupius in playoff goals. If he can keep sizzling now at just the right time he gives the Penguins enough dangerous weapons to be almost unstoppable.
This is what the Bruins will have to find a way to deal with if they plan on getting their second cup in three seasons. Their defence will play an important roll but ultimately the pressure will mainly fall on one man. Tuukka Rask will face by far his most stern test of these playoffs so far and it will be interesting to see how he performs. The Bruins tender has been good but not especially great so far in this playoff campaign, and that something that will just not be enough to cut it against the Pens. His adversary in Tomas Vokoun has largely been the same, good but nothing special. Rask will have to be special and then some to keep Pittsburgh at bay.
While the Penguins will rely on offensive ability to win this series the Bruins will rely on grit. They are the more physical of the two teams and will look to use that to their advantage against the range of Penguins stars. You can bet that Boston will dominate both the shots blocked and hits column throughout the series, although this could also be due to the fact that they probably won’t see as much of the puck. However, they do possess all the tools to wear their adversary down. But they cannot let the physicality slip or what happened to them in Games 5 and 6 of the Maple Leafs series will repeat itself, only this time it will be a whole lot worse.
Furthermore, while the Penguins have incredible offence the Bruins haven’t been too shabby in that department either. The team is second in Goals Per Game, albeit at more than one goal less. David Krejci has been massive for the team this year and currently leads the team in scoring. Nathan Horton has also been good. But the usual source for offence in the city has gone missing, something that doesn’t bode well for the Pens. Tyler Seguin only has one goal and four points but is due for a major breakout series. Jaromir Jagr, the man the Bruins got after being spurned by Iginla, hasn’t been putting up the points. If these two continue to struggle it will be infinitely more difficult for the Bruins to find the offence required to compete. While Torey Krug is the undisputed surprise of the playoffs, the Bruins simply cannot expect this rookie defenceman to score a goal every game going forward. Its just not likely to happen.
It could also be special teams that make the big difference in this series. Thus far the powerplay has been the catalyst for the Penguins offensive success as they have the highest percentage in the playoffs. It is even greater than the San Jose Sharks, who got incredible mileage out of their man advantage opportunities in sweeping the Canucks, and forcing the Kings to seven game. The Bruins, on the other hand, have had rather poor penalty killing thus far. This is even after a series against the Rangers. Boston has to shore up their kill, and play as well as they did when they were a man down in the regular season. With the style of play the Bruins will need to execute to succeed at even strength, it is almost inevitable that they will spend some time at a manpower disadvantage. The Bruins will need to kill those Penguin powerplays to stand a chance..
Yet another key storyline between the teams in this series includes the well publicized Matt Cooke feud with the Boston Bruins. Milan Lucic made it known earlier this week that the Bruins still blame Cooke for the hit he laid on their teammate Mark Savard in 2010, and the effect that has had in Savard’s career. The hit is one of the key incidents that led to the end of Savard’s career and the institution of the NHL’s rule 48 on headshots. However despite the passage of time, bad blood still lingers here.
Both teams are incredibly well rested going into this series and that should contribute to the excitement. Preparation will be key, and it will be interesting to see what kind of shape the two teams are in when they hit the ice on Saturday. You do not want to build up a deficit in terms of games in this series. Both teams want to make the final and will not let up when the opponent is down.
As for who will win? The Penguins just have too much offense for the Bruins, or possibly any team, to handle. Boston will give them a lot to handle but Pittsburgh take it in 6.
Here’s what our other writers think:
Max Vasilyev (100%): The Penguins have found solid goaltending and this showed in the series against Ottawa. The Bruins are big and tough, but unless Tyler Seguin can provide some secondary scoring, it wont end well for the big Bear. Penguins in 6.
Russel Mackenzie (67%): If there were a way to eliminate both of these teams from the post season, I would be all for it as I am not a fan of Jeremy Jacobs or Matt Cooke. Putting that aside though, the bottom line though is that Jarome Iginla is this season’s Ray Bourque. It would be completely magical to see Iginla score a game 7 overtime goal. This series will be an epic clash of the titans of the Eastern Conference. Penguins in 7.
Ben Kerr (67%): The Pittsburgh Team is just too deep offensively for the Bruins to Handle. Chara is a great defender, but he can’t shut down all 3 Pens lines, and with as well as Crosby is playing, he may not even be able to stop the top line. The Pens win the war of attrition in 6 games.
Game 1 – Saturday June 1st at 8 p.m. in Pittsburgh
Game 2 – Monday June 3rd at 8 p.m. in Pittsburgh
Game 3 – Wednesday June 5 at 8 p.m. in Boston
Game 4 – Friday June 7 at 8 p.m. in Boston
Game 5 (if necessary) – Sunday June 9 at 8 p.m. in Pittsburgh
Game 6 (if necessary) – Tuesday June 11 in Boston
Game 7 (if necessary) – Wednesday June 12 in Pittsburgh
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