To the Bruins fans who were lulled to sleep by the uninspired play of the New York Rangers during their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Boston Bruins: No, you are not dreaming, even if this is the match-up you have been dreaming of since the end of March.
By virtue of their 3-1 win in Game 5 of the conference semi’s last Saturday night, the Bruins earned themselves a return trip to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in the last three seasons, set to begin tomorrow night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. The Bruins will also have the chance to prove Jarome Iginla made the wrong decision at the Trade Deadline, when the future Hall-of-Famer chose to spurn the Bruins and go to the Penguins in search of the first championship of his career.
They say time heals all wounds, so maybe it is likely the Iginla trade is nothing but a distant memory to the players in the Bruins locker room, if they ever even cared about it at all, but it is a story line nonetheless as they will have to prove Iginla wrong in order to get back to the Stanley Cup Final.
And in the process they will also help in deciding an age-old debate in sports: Is it about the more talented players or the right players?
There is no doubt the Penguins are the more talented team in the series. If games were played on paper, the Bruins would not stand a chance of making it past Game 5, but talent does not always win. For all their lack of talent when compared to their opponent, however, the Bruins are still at very good and well-balanced team that always plays within a smart system. Can they prove to be the better team over the next seven games? Or will the Penguins prove they themselves are a team and more than just a collection of stars?
Bruins versus Penguins.
Team versus Talent.
The Black-and-Gold faithful around New England should not be able to help themselves in thinking this matchup has the feel of an old school, Patriots versus Colts rivalry game from about 10 years ago. On one side there’s the star-studded offense, well known to the headlines, up against the rag-tag bunch with a staunch defensive game plan and an offense that is more timely and opportunistic than good.
And much like how the Patriots always had the Colts number back in those days, it is not outlandish to say the Bruins have a chance to upset the Penguins or even to pick them to win this series.
The Patriots, however, were never going to beat the Colts in a track meet in those days and the Bruins are not going to beat the Penguins in that manner in this series. Even if the B’s have the league’s second best offense in the playoffs, Pittsburgh’s league leading offense is more than a goal better at 4.27 to 3.17 goals per game.
One has to think, no matter how good the Bruins defense can be, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Penguins offense are going to score. There is probably no way around that. The focus for head coach Claude Julien and the rest of the Bruins should not be on packing it in and doing everything they can to keep Pittsburgh off the board, but rather just limiting their opportunities so that the Penguins are only scoring in the 3-4 goal range as opposed to the 5-6 goal range they are very capable of being in.
It is projecting that Chara will be matched up against the bigger, more physical Malkin and his wingers, Iginla and James Neal, while Patrice Bergeron will have to be responsible for neutralizing the trio of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis as much as possible. Chara and Bergeron are two of the best at what they do when it comes to their defensive prowess, which is also the strength of the Bruins as a team. They may need to be at there best to do so, but they should stand a far better chance of slowing down the Pittsburgh attack than the New York Islanders or Ottawa Senators.
The Bruins, however, cannot try and make the next seven games into the typical Claude Julien, “win the game 1-0” style of hockey. The Bruins are going to need to score as much as they are going to need to prevent their opponent from doing so. Yes, one way to stop the Penguins from scoring is to pack in the defensive zone and play defense only, but might a better way be to win the possession battle and keep the puck away from the Penguins?
On top of limiting the Penguins opportunities, the Bruins will need to walk that fine line of somehow bringing a more physically dominating presence to rattle Pittsburgh, much like the Philadelphia Flyers did last year when they bounced the Penguins in the first round, but to not let that physical style get the better of them.
For much of the regular season, the Bruins penalty kill was leaps and bounds ahead of any other team in the NHL. After a 7-for-7 performance against the Devils in mid-April, however, the Bruins PK took a nosedive over the last two weeks of the regular season from which they have yet to recover.
The unit is currently operating at 81.1% – more than 10% lower than when at their peak this season – yielding nearly a power play about every other game (seven goals against in 12 games). Conversely, the Penguins power play is converting at a league best 28.3% in the playoffs (13 goals scored in 11 games). The Bruins will need to stay out of the penalty box, but can they still manage to bring the physical presence needed to rattle the Penguins while doing so?
If the Bruins can at least slow down and limit the Penguins attack, if they can be physical and stay out of the box and if Tuukka Rask can play like the goaltender who, early in the Rangers series, had numbers eerily similar to those of Tim Thomas when he won the Conn Smythe as opposed to the goaltender who has a career record of 3-8 when his team has a chance to close out a series, the Bruins have a team that has a chance to stand up to the super-squad that is the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If they fail to come through in any of those areas, they will have to settle for being thankful the weather has turned in Boston this week because it will be time for their summer break.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.