Wednesday, April 11 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
Friday, April 13 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
Sunday, April 15 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - 3:00 p.m. - NBC
Wednesday, April 18 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
*Friday, April 20 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
*Sunday, April 22 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - TBD - TBD
*Tuesday, April 24 - Tampa Bay at PITTSBURGH - TBD - TBD
Games marked in BOLD indicate home games.
* If necessary All times EDT
D Andrew Ference
D Wade Redden
Pittsburgh and Boston have been two of the NHL’s most successful teams over the last few years, with the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 and going to the Final in 2008, while the Bruins won in 2011. And when the two Eastern Conference powers met during the regular season, the two clubs had dramatic, exciting battles – the kinds of games that make one wish for a playoff series between the teams.
That’s finally going to happen in the 2013 playoffs. The Penguins and the Bruins will meet in the Eastern Conference Final, their first postseason meeting since 1992. That year, Pittsburgh swept Boston en route to winning their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups (they had beaten them in 1991 as well). This year, the Penguins swept the regular-season series with the Bruins and won all three games by one goal.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a challenge,” Brandon Sutter said. “I think we’re looking forward to it. If you look back earlier in the year, it’s probably the team we expected we had to go through to get to this point, so it’s going to be a fun series.”
Here are some of the main storylines to follow as the series progresses. Click on any of the links below to be taken to that specific section...
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is tough enough to play against one game at a time in the regular season; now the Penguins have the tall task (pun intended – ha!) of dealing with him in a best-of-seven playoff series.
There is no other player in the NHL like Chara, who measures 6-foot-9, 255 pounds and uses his unparalleled blend of size and ability to be one of the best shutdown defenders in the game. But while the Bruins may have Chara, the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
With the Penguins healthy and having both of their superstar centers in the lineup, they pose a big matchup problem for the Bruins. Which line does Boston send Chara over the boards to battle – Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, or Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla? Chara usually matches up with Crosby (and the Penguins captain said he expects to line up against him), but with the way Malkin, Neal and Iginla have played and produced the last few games, the Bruins could opt to put their captain out against them instead.
Either way, unless Chara stays on the ice for two straight shifts during even-strength (which isn’t completely out of the question considering he’s averaging over 29 minutes a game, but unlikely), one of those lines will be free from having a 6-foot-9 shadow with a long reach and hard shot on their shifts – and free to try and force their game on the Bruins in the offensive zone.
“I guess it’s good if you look at our team, he can’t just play against one line,” Dupuis said of Chara. “He’ll be on the ice quite a bit if he’s trying to match against both lines and I don’t know how they’re going to do that, but it’s a good thing we have going there.”
And even the line that does end up on the ice with Chara, no matter which one it is, can exploit his weaknesses. Chara still has his long reach and shot, but he has never been especially mobile – and that’s starting to become even more apparent with age. At 36, he’s not the same player he was even two years ago when Boston won the Cup. It’s showed in a few goals against in these playoffs so far. And with the talent the Penguins have throughout their star-studded roster, the question may not be so much can the Penguins beat Chara, but can Chara keep up with the Penguins?
Boston’s total commitment to defense has proven to be formidable enough in regular-season meetings, and it won them the Stanley Cup just two years ago in 2011. Will the high-powered Penguins be able to overcome it in a best-of-seven series?
“That’s been one of their identities for a few years now,” forward Craig Adams said. “They’re really solid defensively, really committed to their structure and their system and you don’t get a lot of chances on them.”
The Bruins have always had a size on their blue line that has made them tough to play against, starting, of course, with Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9, 255 pounds). Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg are also big defensemen that play physical. But with the addition of rookie defensemen Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski (along with fellow first-year Dougie Hamilton), the dynamic has changed. Krug and Bartkowski especially bring speed, skating and the ability to move the puck and break it out of their own end quickly in transition. Their mobility and offensive instincts could pose a problem for the Penguins, who struggled with that in the Islanders series.
Boston’s blue line is imposing enough on its own, but when factoring in how responsible the Bruins forwards are, creating offense may prove to be a monumental challenge for the Penguins – even considering how they have been able to score in these playoffs so far. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, two of the best two-way centers in the game, lead Boston’s front end. The forwards and defensemen all buy into their system and execute it perfectly, playing a very patient, structured game and supporting each other all 200 feet of the ice with positioning and passing.
“They can really frustrate you with the way they play,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “They’re really good defensively, in the neutral zone, they’re really, really responsible. So they kind of bait you into situations where you think you have something and then they close it down pretty quick, and they’re a good transition team.”
But while Pittsburgh respects Boston for the way it plays, the Bruins also respect the Penguins for their ability to score goals against seemingly any team. In this postseason the Penguins are averaging 4.27 goals per game, which is the highest since the 1985 Cup-winning Edmonton Oilers (5.44), the highest-scoring team in NHL playoff history. The Penguins have scored at least four goals in nine of their 11 playoff games and are 8-1 in those games. Only once this postseason have the Penguins been held to fewer than three goals.
That’s the most Pittsburgh was able to score against Boston during the regular season. But will the Bruins be able to withstand the Penguins attack during this series and force them to play the way they want them to? Or will the Penguins have the patience of their own to stick with it and find a way to overcome them with their deep arsenal of offensive weapons (Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, Dupuis, Iginla, Letang, etc.?)
One future Hall of Famer is producing at an impressive rate with the team he joined at the trade deadline, while the other is struggling.
Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla has 12 postseason points (4G-8A) in 11 games entering this series, which ranks fifth in the NHL. Despite playing right wing for the majority of his career, he has gotten comfortable at left wing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal and the veteran leader and former longtime Flames captain is becoming everything the Penguins hoped he would be for them when they acquired him from Calgary.
Meanwhile, former Penguin great and the NHL’s active leading all-time playoff scorer Jaromir Jagr has not been a perfect fit in Boston since joining them at the deadline from Dallas (he had spent the previous season in Philadelphia). Julien experimented with the aging star just about everywhere in the lineup after they acquired him, but nothing clicked until he joined Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. While it has probably been the best combination so far, Jagr still did not record any points in the first four games of the Rangers series and had just four assists in the Toronto series. He is goalless in 12 games and hasn’t scored since April 21.
But, despite all of that, Jagr has been using his big body to keep possession of the puck and create scoring chances, and is a constant threat on the power play. And it seems like the 41-year-old always comes to play against his former team. A matchup against the Penguins may be just what he needs to get the salute out.
The juiciest part of this storyline is how stunned the hockey world was when it was announced that Iginla was coming to Pittsburgh, since nearly every major media outlet had reported that he had been traded to Boston. Even Penguins general manager Ray Shero’s own children thought Iginla was a Bruin. “The first people I called (after the trade), I actually called my kids and let them know that we acquired Jarome Iginla,” Shero said. “And they said to me, ‘No you didn’t. He’s going somewhere else. We see it on TV.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I think we’re getting him (laughs).’”
The Flames did have deals on the table from both the Penguins and Bruins – which sparked all the reports that Iginla was headed to Boston. But Iginla had to waive his no-trade clause as a part of any deal and had the power to pick his destination. He chose the black and gold of Pittsburgh instead of Boston’s black and yellow and became a Penguin, not a Bruin. Penguins fans were overjoyed while Bruins fans were understandably miffed about the situation, and booed Iginla in his first game as a Penguin in Boston (where he ended up scoring a goal). How this series ends up may determine if ‘Iggy’ made the right choice in his goal to winning his first Stanley Cup. It will also be interesting to see if Jagr still has what it takes to make an impact in big games.
The Penguins have been successful all season at making star goalies look very average. Will this dynamic Pittsburgh team do the same to Tuukka Rask? Rask has had his ups and downs in his first season as Boston’s No. 1 goalie with the depature of the Stanley Cup-winning Tim Thomas. But at the end of the day, he has done what he needed to do to get Boston to the conference final and brings a .928 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average.
Rask recovered from an embarrassing misstep that led to a big goal in Boston’s Game 4 loss to the Rangers with an excellent performance in the Game 5 series-clinching win. The tall, athletic Rask benefits from the way the structured, disciplined Bruins play in front of him. Boston is completely committed to its system and takes a team approach to playing defense. So we will see how the Bruins, and Rask, can withstand the Penguins’ attack. Rask went 0-2 this year against the Penguins, stopping 37 of 42 shots (.881 save percentage). He’s made five career regular-season starts versus Pittsburgh, going 1-4 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage.
Meanwhile, Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun started two of Pittsburgh’s three games against the Bruins this season – winning both and stopping 69 of 72 shots (.958 save percentage). He has won three straight and four of his past five decisions against them. Vokoun stepped into the role of starter in Game 5 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against the New York Islanders and has gone 6-1 in seven straight starts since. He ranks second in the NHL with a .941 save percentage and is tied for third with a 1.85 goals-against average in these playoffs. Like Rask, Vokoun has done what he needed to do between the pipes for his team to get them here. While Rask has to defend the net against Pittsburgh’s seemingly endless supply of offensive weapons, Vokoun’s biggest challenge will be dealing with Boston’s tendency to crash the net and battle for loose pucks and rebounds in the blue paint. He will have to be alert and prepared for that.
The Penguins power play has been a game-changer during these playoffs, converting at an obsence 28.3-percent success rate (13-for-46). The Penguins have been using the following units: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang on the first one and Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Brenden Morrow, Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin on the second. Letang leads the NHL with seven power-play points, while Crosby ranks fourth with seven and Malkin is fifth with six. The Bruins have been struggling on the penalty kill with an 81.1-percent success rate that puts them eighth in the playoffs – and they may be no match for Pittsburgh and its superior talent.
Meanwhile, rookie defenseman Torey Krug has injected a shot (literally) into Boston’s previously lethargic power play.
Despite all of their success over the last few seasons, the power play has always been Boston’s one weakness – even having Zdeno Chara and his bomb from the point. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup two years ago, they did it with a 10-for-88 power play – converting just 11.4 percent of their chances. They finished the next season with the No. 15-ranked power play and fell to 26th this season. However, after scoring just three goals on 20 chances against Toronto in the first round, the Bruins went 4-for-12 in five games versus the Rangers in the second round – with three of those coming off the stick of Krug.
The Bruins have used Krug, his ability to distribute the puck and his laser-like shot on the point alongside another rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton with David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton up front. Their other unit has consisted of Chara at the point, Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin on the half walls and Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic down low. They’ve continued to improve in that area, with Krug and their ability as a team to win faceoffs – “(faceoffs are) going to be a big factor for (our) penalty kill; they’re very good to start their power play” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said – driving that success.
Getting the power play going has been big for the Bruins and helped them win their second-round series. But even with Krug lifting it, it still cannot compare to Pittsburgh’s.
While Zdeno Chara is the player to watch on Boston’s back end, Patrice Bergeron is their player to watch all over the ice. He is arguably the most valuable player in the Bruins lineup as he is one of, if not the, best two-way centers in the game. Bergeron will likely be the center to match up against Sidney Crosby – which will be a battle within the game to watch closely, as the Bruins alternate captain is capable of shutting down the best.
Points don’t define Bergeron’s game, but he has been clutch when it counts for the Bruins this postseason. His most epic performance came in Boston’s dramatic Game 7 comeback victory over Toronto in the first round. With 1:30 minutes left and his team down 4-2, Bergeron helped set up Milan Lucic’s goal that brought Boston within one, scored the tying goal to force overtime and then netted the winning goal 6:05 into the extra session to send the Bruins to the second round.
The versatile Bergeron logs big minutes in all situations for the Bruins. The 27-year-old leads all Bruins forwards in average time on ice this postseason – averaging 20:38 minutes per game and playing both power play and penalty kill. He is also the NHL’s most successful faceoff taker, leading the league by winning 63.5 percent of his draws in these playoffs (160-of-252). He finished the regular season with a 62.1-percent success rate. Bergeron, a four-time 20-goal scorer, also finished the regular season with the NHL’s sixth-best plus-minus total (plus-24), while his combined plus-60 rating over the previous two seasons is the top figure in the NHL.
Coach Bylsma on Bergeron…
“He gets the big responsibility usually on the matchup situation for other team’s top lines. Bergeron, I think, stemming right from the faceoffs to his ability to play on both sides of the puck, he’s a patient guy, he’s not a guy who goes looking for his offense or tries to find the chances to go for offense. He’s a real patient guy, he plays on the defensive side of the puck, fits well in that matchup role-wise, but he also is a guy who does have the skill and the ability to make that play – to make the big play – and does that for his team and continues to do that for his team. He’s a tough guy to play against. He’s a patient guy. He’s willing to play that defensive style of game and continue to do that. A lot of times, that frustration he builds in the opposition is where he does eventually get his offense from and timely scoring for his team. So it’s a tough matchup situation, he’s a good and tough guy to play against in that regard. I’m sure we’ll see a couple matchups, not only from him and his line but defensive pairing as well.”