On May 23, 1992 a 20 year old Jaromir Jagr and a 27 year old Mario Lemieux blasted the Boston Bruins in the Wales Conference Finals for the second straight year. The Penguins would go on to face the Chicago Blackhawks and win their second straight Stanley Cup. The following year both teams had break out seasons, the Penguins bolstered four 100 point scorers in Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet and Ron Francis and the Bruins had two 100 point scorers in Adam Oates and Joe Juneau and fantastic depth scoring from Dimitri Kvartalnov , Vladimir Ruzicka, Dave Poulin, Steve Leach, Ted Donato and Dave Reid. The two teams were once again favored to have a third straight match up in the Conference Finals, however two overly confident teams found themselves upset in the first and second rounds respectively. The Boston Bruins were swept by the Buffalo Sabres, a series best remembered for Ray Bourque being out played by Brad May who ended the career of Andy Moog in Boston and kicked off an 18 year downward spiral for the team. The Pittsburgh Penguins dispatched the New Jersey Devils in 4 games and were upset by the New York Islanders in dramatic fashion with an overtime goal by David Volek.
20 years later a man who played on the same Pittsburgh team that eliminated Boston in back to back Wales Conference Finals and was on the Pittsburgh team that should have won a third Stanley Cup dawns a Boston Bruins jersey and is about to face his old team for possibly the last time. Jagr has already had to face the Penguins since returning to the NHL in 2011. The 2012 playoffs saw old time rivals the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins match up in the Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals, this time Jagr was a Flyer and the long time rivals battled out in a 6 game series that saw the Flyers advance. This time it almost seems like history finally has a chance to do things it’s way. To think that 20 years ago this match up of the Bruins vs Penguins was already in the minds of everyone before the playoffs even began, and for Jaromir Jagr to once again be in the thick of it all is eerie to say the least.
However as easy as it is to look back on the history of all of this, it must be remembered the the Bruins and the Penguins almost didn’t make it here. The Boston Bruins nearly dropped a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round before making a miraculous comeback in the final minutes of Game 7 to eliminate the Leafs in overtime. The Pittsburgh Penguins were almost forced to play a Game 7 against the New York Islanders in the Quarter-Finals before winning Game 6 in overtime 4-3. The Bruins defeated the New York Rangers in the second round, a team that the Bruins have had a long time problem with (especially in the scoring department), and the Penguins had to face up against the Ottawa Senators who defied all odds and injuries to make the playoffs and trounce the Canadiens. The Senators very well could have turned it on and did to the Penguins what they did to the Habs, but the team failed to come together one last time and the Penguins were able to beat the depleted Senators team.
Now both the Bruins and the Penguins riding are an all time high momentum wave, and the series really can go either way. The biggest two match ups that everyone is focusing on is Tuukka Rask vs Tomas Vokoun and the Bruins defense vs the Penguins Offense. Both Tuukka Rask and Tomas Vokoun are extremely talented goaltenders who have been doing everything right this post-season. Over the last 12 games, Tuukka Rask has posted a 2.22 GAA and a .928 SV%. He’s been much calmer in net then he’s ever been before. Vokoun in the 7 games he’s played since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury has a 1.85 GAA and a .941 SV% with one shutout. With those kind of numbers, it becomes a question of whether the Bruins offense can actually beat Vokoun or not. Looking back on the New York Rangers series, Herink Lundqvist has always been a major problem for the Boston Bruins. Only twice have they ever gotten 5 goals by him, and at the most on average they get 3 by him. But this time around, the Boston Bruins found a consistent way to pierce Lundqvist’s armor and hold down the New York offense from striking back.
And that leads right into if the Bruins defense can hold down the Pittsburgh Penguins offense. Normally the New York Rangers can victimize the Boston Bruins, but in the last few games the Bruins defense has been potent as can be. The Bruins have received great up lift from rookies Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, who are both learning so much from the veterans on the team. The Bruins also have Chara and Seidenberg back together, but the main thing is that the fast moving speed of the rookies have been able to skate out of trouble and make shifty and quick plays in their defensive zone and along the boards. The big key to the Bruins defensive cog at the moment is Torey Krug. Offensively gifted and speedy, Krug has done everything right so far and will definitely be a very nasty thorn in the side of the Penguins. But looking past what the Bruins have, the focus needs to be on what the Penguins have. Backed by offensive giants Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal and now Jarome Iginla, the Penguins are scary good. But what can the Bruins do to shut them down?
Simple, keep doing what they did to shut down the New York Rangers.
Despite being defensive first, the New York Rangers do have incredibly potent scorers who know how turn it on when they need to. Both the Bruins defense and the goaltending of Tuukka Rask were able to keep the Ranger’s offense down while still making incredibly smart break outs and plays to counter-act the Rangers defense. The Bruins are very good at keeping the offensive threat of the offense to the side walls and outside the slot area and are good at collapsing down on the offense in the slot if the team can get the puck back out. The two best at doing that during the Rangers series were Gregory Campbell and Milan Lucic. Lucic has really turned it on all post-season and has realized he can use his size and speed to be a defensive and offensive threat. The Bruins can easily handle the likes of Crosby, Malkin, and Kunitz by shutting them down before they enter the offensive zone, but how can the Bruins handle the depth of the Penguins? Utilize the speed of the rookies and the speed of the breakouts. Torey Krug comes up again here because he had several moments during the Ranger series where he was able to use his speed to get the puck away from the offense and make a fast break out and create a scoring chance. He has a strong shot and has proven his ability to be a defensive threat as well.
This will be a hard series for the Bruins to win, but they can do it. The formula for the last 6 games has worked incredibly well and the Bruins can continue that and even improve upon it. No predictions here, but the Bruins can definitely make an impression win or lose.