So, apparently everybody but the Bruins and their fans believe that the Penguins are going to obliterate Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s how the felt about us against Vancouver two years ago. The Bruins proved them wrong then, and I believe they can do it again. Here’s how they’re going to do it.
Sidney Crosby is going to be puck shy. I can already hear the Pittsburgh fans conjuring up some rather abusive imagery on that one. Crosby’s mask is off, and he’s back to the normal visor. While he will have a clearer field of view, he will be vulnerable to incoming fire. We’ve seen the damage a Zdeno Chara or Johnny Boychuk shot can do to a player. When those high velocity rounds are going to be incoming, Crosby will NOT have the stones to take an incoming round to avoid a goal. That first close call will rattle him, and reduce his effectiveness in the series.
Zdeno Chara will be able to contain Evgeni Malkin. This task could be harder to do than scaring Sidney. Malkin is the team leading scorer with sixteen points, but those were against teams that didn’t have the defensive skills of the post-season Bruins (Islanders) or have the stamina to engage after the abbreviated season (Senators). Chara has size and reach, and Malkin isn’t that fast on skates. If Chara is careful (and doesn’t allow a repeat of Game four against the Rangers), he should be able to contain Malkin. The Bruins are great at pinching in an incoming offensive play, and that kind of defense will quickly grate on the Pens.
The Bruins will be disciplined on the ice. I’ll give this to the Penguins. They can be a physical team. They aren’t as physical as the Bruins, but they’ll be tough. Another thing I’ll give Pittsburgh, they’re hockey players. They aren’t prone to diving, and they play as serious (at times more so) than Boston. The Bruins know that some of the penalties they have incurred were more ‘reputation’ penalties than actual calls. While I believe the refs in the finals will have a more ‘let em play’ approach, the Bruins will need to keep a tight rein on their more boisterous hits. It would be folly to the point of stupidity to not worry about the Penguins power play, and a wise Bruins team will avoid the unnecessary 5-on-4 whenever possible.
The Bruins will force the Penguins to play a three zone game. This is one of the places where even some Pittsburgh fans will admit Boston has the advantage. We have defensemen who will commit to the offense. (Not taking anything away from Kris Letang here, he’s tied with Malkin for points.) Torey Krug has been a fantastic surprise for the Bruins, and that youthful energy will only strengthen the Bruins resolve. (If the Bruins allow the Penguins to stay in the defensive zone, it could be a short and painful series.)
I still see the Bruins winning this in six. Why? They want it more. They have learned from their failures in the regular season, and are ready to surprise the Penguins on Saturday night.