Conference Finals Preview: Penguins vs. Bruins
BostonBruins.com – After the Bruins' propelled themselves into the Eastern Conference Finals, Milan Lucic was noticeably excited at not only the opportunity to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but to go up against a fire-power team like the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"Well, no doubt they’re a great hockey club. In my mind, they’re almost like the Miami Heat of the NHL with all the star power they got," said Lucic. "Probably the two best players in the world [Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin] and a 40-goal scorer and the former 50-goal scorer, a future Hall of Famer [Jarome Iginla] and a Norris Trophy candidate [Kris Letang] on their team. So, they definitely have a lot of weapons."
"And in saying all that, I think what makes them successful is they play real well as a team and I think that’s what you’re going to probably see going into this next series, is two well-rounded teams going at it and for us we’ve got to be ready and excited for the challenge."
Many consider the Penguins to have two number one lines, with Chris Kunitz, Crosby, and Pascal Dupuis rounding out one and James Neal, Malkin, and Iginla the other. While it will be a tall task to quiet the league’s number one offense during the playoffs (Pittsburgh has scored 4.27 goals a game), the Bruins are confident they have the ability to shut down the Penguins relentless attack.
“We’ve got two lines that we feel are pretty good as well,” said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien, who addressed the media at TD Garden on Monday morning. “Maybe we don’t have the names that the Penguins have when it comes to the Crosbys, the Malkins, but we have guys that have done a great job in the past, that have worked well together, that have given us an opportunity to be a championship team.
“Depth is certainly going to be challenged with another team that has just as much. We talked about how useful it was in the first couple of rounds; well, it’s going to be a challenge here in this one against Pittsburgh.”
Pittsburgh’s dynamic offense and speed will cause the Bruins coaches to think long and hard about which of the Penguins’ lines they will match-up up their defensive pairs with.
“They mix and match Malkin and Crosby; often they’re together, and sometimes they’re not,” said B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli when asked during a press conference on Sunday morning at TD Garden, how the team will match up their defensive duos.
“It seems like their top two lines are in pairs and then they switch the other guys. Their third line is a solid line and the fourth line is a lot similar to ours. What we can provide is we have a strong defending lineup, and I think we’ve had success on the road. It shows that.”
Julien wants the defensive effort to be a collective one. As always, he will be preaching defense from all five players on the ice, not just the two defensemen.
“We know they’re highly skilled up front, and even on the back end. Guys that can carry the puck— Letang and you see [Paul] Martin, those guys. They’ve got a lot of everything,” said Julien. “We know we’re going to have to be extremely good, but we’ve been there before in having to face teams with good speed.
“We respect that. We acknowledge that. It’s not just about the defense. It’s about the five men unit on the ice, and we need numbers coming back. We can’t afford to get caught deep and leave our D’s alone and having to battle that. That’s going to be important, obviously, is our game without the puck and making sure we have numbers coming back.
“At the same time, we’ve got to be extremely good in the offensive zone. The more time we spend there, the more it’s to our benefit.”
REGULAR SEASON RECAP
The Penguins won all three of the regular season meetings with the Bruins. The games were close, however, with each being decided by one goal. The first game, March 12 in Pittsburgh, was a 3-2 Penguins victory. Just five days later, also in Pittsburgh, the Penguins took home a 2-1 win. The final meeting came on April 20 at TD Garden, with the Penguins coming away as 3-2 winners.
Tyler Seguin led the Bruins with three points (all goals) against Pittsburgh this season. Zdeno Chara also had three points (one goal, two assists). Pittsburgh’s Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz each had three points apiece against Boston, to lead the Penguins.
“We go through everything,” said Julien, when asked whether he and his staff will watch tape of the regular season games with the Penguins in preparation for the series. “We’ll look at our games and things that we did well, things that we can be better at, but we also look at all the playoff games [Pittsburgh has played].
“There’s not much that doesn’t get looked at. That’s the way hockey is today. The regular season is one thing, playoffs is another. We’re certainly not hanging our hats that our record wasn’t good against them this year. There’s only three goals difference at the end of the day. I don’t think in three games that’s a big thing to worry about.”
Tuukka Rask has been huge for the Bruins during the playoffs, posting an 8-4 record with a 2.22 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has had trouble finding consistency in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury played the first four games of the postseason, but was replaced by Tomas Vokoun in Game Five of the first round against the New York Islanders, after struggling mightily.
In four games, Fleury was 2-2 with 3.40 GAA and an .891 save percentage, surrendering a total of 10 goals in Games Three and Four against New York.
Vokoun, who was 2-0, with a 1.50 GAA and .958 save percentage against the Bruins in the regular season, has settled things down for the Penguins since taking over the No. 1 job. In seven games, the veteran goalie is 6-1 with a 1.85 GAA and .941 save percentage.
“In this situation here, Vokoun is not a rookie,” said Julien. "Vokoun has been in the league for a long time. He’s been a good goaltender. Again, they made sure that they covered their back end that way, and they needed him. He’s stepped in there and done a good job for them. They’ve got a 1-2 punch there on that team and right now they’re taking advantage of it.”
SPECIAL TEAMS COMPARISON
The Penguins were a power play juggernaut all season long, finishing second behind only Washington (26.8) during the regular season, with a 24.7 success rate on the man-advantage. In the playoffs, the Pens have gotten even better. Through 11 games, Pittsburgh (28.3%) ranks first in the NHL, having scored on 13 of 46 opportunities this postseason.
The Bruins (21.9%) have improved greatly on the power play throughout the postseason (thanks in part, to the additions of Torey Krug and Jaromir Jagr), ranking fifth in the NHL. Boston (14.8) was just 26th during the regular season.
THE IGINLA SAGA: Just prior to this year’s trade deadline, the Bruins thought they had acquired Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames, in exchange for a package that included B’s defenseman Matt Bartkowski. But, Iginla was dealt to the Penguins, and Bartkowksi remained in Black & Gold.
Julien is not interested in the idea that there will be any extra motivation facing Iginla.
“I would say that moving to the Stanley Cup Finals is way more important than that situation. That’s where our focus has to be,” said the B’s bench boss.
After the Iginla deal fell through, Chiarelli pulled off a deal for Jaromir Jagr, sending Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne and a 2013 conditional second-round pick to the Dallas Stars (that pick became a first-rounder when the B’s advanced to the conference finals).
Chiarelli believed the Bruins would have to go through Pittsburgh to get to the Stanley Cup Final, but didn’t worry much about the fact that his team would have to go through Iginla, too. The B’s GM is pleased with the way things worked out.
“I always thought you had to go through them to get to where we want to go at some point,” said Chiarelli. “It’s been well-chronicled, the Iginla stuff and the Jagr stuff, so we’re happy with who we got. I think we would’ve been fine with either, but we’re very happy with Jags; and the price to pay, a first-round pick, you’ve got to pay to get a quality player.”
The last time the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins met in the playoffs was 1992. That was also the last time the two sides met in the Conference Finals. Pittsburgh swept the Bruins in that series and went on to win their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups. The Penguins also beat the Bruins in the 1991 Conference Finals, 4-2.
Overall, the Penguins and Bruins have met four times in the postseason, with each team winning two of the series (the 1979 NHL quarterfinals and 1980 preliminary series, were the other two meetings, both won by Boston).
The Penguins won the first game of the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals on the back of a Jagr overtime winner that beat B’s goaltender Andy Moog. Now, 21 years later, Jagr will be looking to take down his former club as he attempts to bring home his third Stanley Cup title (his first two were with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992).