The Bruins have certainly turned the corner since bumbling their way through the closing days of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins are exactly where everyone thought they’d be all along. As these two squads get set to square off in the Eastern Conference finals for the First time since 1992, there are no shortage of story lines to follow going into Saturday’s game.
Jerome Iginla: The most blinding spotlight in this series has to be on the former Calgary Flames captain. It’s been just two months since he vetoed a trade to Boston for a chance to play in Pittsburgh, a slap in the face translating to ” I have better odds of winning over here”. The Bruins haven’t forgotten the snub. They’ll want to be the ones with the ” I told you so” grins in the handshake line. And don’t forget about Matt Batkowski. He should be combing Craigslist Alberta for a new place. Instead, he’s stepped up among the B’s trio of rookie defensive heroes. The pressure is squarely on Iginla to prove he made the right choice. Boston fans will let him know what they think.
Jaromir Jagr: Jags returns to the site of his glory years, some of his most productive seasons in the league and the site of his first two cups. Jagr similarly snubbed the Pens for crosstown rival Philadelphia last year when he returned from Europe. Jagr blended well and created allot of space in his first few games with the B’s, but lately, has seemed to disappear a bit at times. While it’d be nice for him to tickle the twine a few times, the B’s really just need old 68 to go back to creating open spaces and dragging players out of position along with him. The opportunities it opens up for his line mates can’t be overlooked.
Matt Cooke: If Iginla is player that’s most in the spotlight, then Cooke is the most polarizing. Known around the league for all the wrong reasons, a dirty hit in 2010 has all but ended Marc Savard’s career. Nostalgic (and possibly climbing off the walls due to this layoff) fans are harking back to the Ulf Samuelsson hit on Cam Neely back in 1991. Despite an amazing comeback, Neely’s career was ultimately cut short and Ulfie never had to pay for his crimes. Perhaps B’s fans are envisioning those overszied shoulder pads and thick visor wearing number 24 these days. In any case, fans in Boston want blood. It likely won’t happen in game 1, but at some point in this series, Cooke will be a focal point on a big play. The ultimate payback would simply be to eliminate the Pens from the series. Expect him to play with a shaky stick all series.
Goaltending: A tale of two netminders. Tuukka Rask came in to the campaign a seasoned understudy, ready to take his role on center stage. Marc Andre Fleury, meanwhile, felt the cold, hard yank of the cane as the house curtains came down. Meanwhile, Tomas Vokoun, with all of 11 games of playoff experience and years of wandering around the darkest corners of the NHL world (Nashville, Florida) is at the helm for the Pens. While he’s had a great run thus far, the Bruins should truly test him. They’ve got the hot hand after beating all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in New York. Vokoun shouldn’t be too difficult to solve. Rask, meantime, will have his toughest challenge yet. The Penguins high-flying offense will capitalize on any mistakes and loose rebounds kicked to the wrong place. They’ve got a party boat’s worth of all-stars on that squad with a full arsenal of weapons. Rask will have to be even more unbeatable than in the previous two series. Time to separate the men from the boys.
Bruins Defensive Depth: A full week of rest leaves Coach Claude Julien with some very tough decisions come game time. Rumors have Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden ready to rock. Andrew Ference has been seen skating again as well. Seidenberg has been a playoff horse and will likely be counted upon to help shut down the Pens offense. Redden is likely to be relegated back to the bench with the emergence of Bartkowski and Torey Krug. Julien would be hard pressed to not ride the slick Krug for his puck moving skills. The kid is playing like a vet and should be rewarded. Expect Julien to go with Zdeno Chara, Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuck, Adam McQuaid, Krug, and a rotation of Bartkowski, Ference, and Dougie Hamilton based on health and what the series tone calls for on a given night. Krug will get a short leash in this series as the veterans return.
One final key to the series, from the Bruins side, is Tyler Seguin. Segs has only lit the lamp once this postseason, but don’t expect it to continue. The young sniper is getting his chances and is primed for a breakthrough. Expect him to score in a big place.
Series Prediction: Bruins in 7.
The Penguins are an uber talented team… but the Bruins are riding the momentum and are starting to resemble their 2011 championship squad. With stellar goaltending from Rask, the Bruins depth has a chance against the Pens firepower.