Five Keys as Penguins, Bruins Battle for Game 2
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins know they can't lose the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final without suffering grave consequences.
The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, know that heading back to Boston with a two-game lead in the best-of-7 series is the best possible scenario.
So each side knows we have already reached a pivotal point in this series in Game 2 on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) at Consol Energy Center.
That means Game 2 should be twice as intense as Game 1, which was a bitterly fought affair from the opening whistle to the final horn in what turned out to be a 3-0 victory for Boston. Now the pace will be even more furious, the hitting will be even more punishing and the goaltending even more precise.
With all of that said, there are still key areas that will be contested during Game 2. The team that comes out on the positive side of those battles will most likely depart for Boston in the more positive frame of mind.
Here are five of the most important keys to Game 2:
1. Time of possession
No, this is not football, where time of possession is easily quantifiable. But offensive-zone time is still vitally important, even if it is not actively tracked.
Pittsburgh started out Game 1 the way it wanted, with the Sidney Crosby line pinning the Bruins deep and getting on their cycle game. However, they slowly drifted from that plan after David Krejci scored the game-opening goal in the ninth minute of the first period.
Boston, meanwhile, knows the best defense against the high-octane Penguins is a good offense. If the Bruins can make Pittsburgh's superstar forwards exert more energy in the defensive zone, they will be far less dangerous.
In Game 1, Boston never really established extended looks in Pittsburgh's zone and far more of the game was played around the blue lines than anyone expected.
"I thought it was a lot of a north-south game," Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin said. "There wasn't a lot of time spent in-zone as you would expect. We have to manage the puck a little bit coming out of our end. But I don't think either team spent as much time as they would like to in the opposing team's zone."
2. Cheating hearts
The Bruins decisively won the faceoff battle in Game 1, winning 32 of 48 draws. That proficiency allowed Boston to establish possession of the puck and keep it away from the Penguins.
Pittsburgh's Jussi Jokinen was the only Penguin that had any tangible success in the circle in Game 1, winning 6 of 10 faceoffs. He said the Bruins are so good because they cheat in the faceoff circle, looking for the slight advantages that often determine who wins and loses when the puck is dropped. Plus, he said nobody is better than Patrice Bergeron, Boston's top faceoff man who went 10-for-16 Saturday night.
"I always say whoever finds a way to cheat most in the faceoff is the best," Jokinen said Monday. "I feel Bergeron does the best. He cheats a lot, but in a way that the linesman lets him take those draws. We have to find a way to cheat more and find the fine line on what is allowed and what is not. If we can't win clean, we have to create some more 50-50 pucks and have some help from our wingers."
3. Power surge
Game 1 was a highly-charged and emotional affair, with lots of post-whistle scrums and a lot of stick fouls. As a result, there were 14 different penalties called and each team received four power plays.
The Bruins held the Penguins without a goal on their four man-advantage situations, but they know they can't go to the well too often in that regard.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile knows its power-play efficiency -- 13 goals in 12 games -- is an integral part of its success and that the unit must be better in Game 2.
"I think in a lot of ways you look at the power play not always in terms of goals, but your output and scoring chances and opportunities and I think we got some of those," coach Dan Bylsma said Monday. "So having said that, we like to score every time, but we got opportunities, we got situations, posts and second chances which you're looking for and then getting -- obviously it would have been big to capitalize on one of those in this game to get a goal and to make it 1-0 or even make it 1-1 there. So it is a factor, but I like the units we're going to put out there [in Game 2] and like what we're going to do."
4. Walk the line
The best way to control the Penguins' power play is to not take penalties.
While that is tough to do against an offense as potent as Pittsburgh's and in a setting as combustible as this Eastern Conference Final, the Bruins know that it is detrimental for them to take penalties of retaliation or aggression and provide Pittsburgh with "free" opportunities to get the power play in gear.
"We have an emotional team, they do too, and it is an emotional time of year," Boston forward Shawn Thornton said. "But you have to find that line because you don't want to put your team down."
It will be interesting to see what Bylsma tries to do in Game 2 with the last change.
He is not normally one to allow the other team to dictate which line he puts on the ice, but he may try to change the rotation of his lines a bit to get some of his top players away from Bergeron, Boston's best checking forward.
Game 1 was not as much of a chess match as many believed and Boston coach Claude Julien admitted he got more of the matchups he wanted, despite having to declare first as the visiting team. Some of the matches, obviously, were made on the fly by Julien.
"I think it's because he didn't mind those matches either," Julien said after Game 1. "There were times I had to change on the fly. Whatever matches we wanted, we had to work hard at. Our guys were smart enough to get pucks in the areas where we could make those. Overall, I don't think there's a big difference necessarily in the kind of matchups. We're two teams that don't spend 100 percent of our time worrying about that more than we worry about the flow of the game."