And it begins.
The intensity gets ratcheted up tonight as the Eastern Conference Finals kick off. The Bruins Penguins series looks like its going to be as intense a series as you will find. You've got a high-scoring, finesse team in the Penguins going up against a tough and mean Boston Bruins team for a chance to bring another Stanley Cup back to their respective cities. The Bruins and Penguins have been among the more successful teams the past several seasons, so seeing them here shouldn't surprise anyone. This is what we watch all season for, and I for one am expecting an insanely-entertaining series.
And one the Bruins will win.
Vegas likes the Penguins, with the odds at -170 for the Penguins and +150 for the Bruins (So if you put $100 on the Bruins you will make a profit of $170, or if you put $170 on the Penguins you will make $100).*
Sure all the stats and sabermetrics will tell you the Pens' superior talent gives them the edge, but the issue everyone has with numbers is they don't account for things like team chemistry and "grittiness". It's not going to be easy, but over the past few days, and going back to 2011, the Bruins have shown they rise to the occasion when it matters most. This is a team that pulled its goalie and scored two, count 'em two, goals in the final two minutes against the Maple Leafs and completed one of the most incredible comebacks in sports.
But lets look at the numbers anyway. (By the way, did you know that the four teams still playing have won the last four Stanley Cups? Crazyness.)
The Stats So Far
- Goals: Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis each have seven, James Neal has 6.
- Assist: Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and David Krejci have 12 and Zdeno Chara has 9.
- Points: (PIT) Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang both have 16 points, Crosby has 15 and Jarome Iginla has 12.
- Points: (BOS) Krejci has 17 points and Nathan Horton has 12.
- Shots: Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both have 46 closely followed by Tyler Seguin with 45.
- Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz and Boston's Torey Krug both have three power play goals.
- Nathan Horton has made two game-winning goals.
- Tuukka Rask has allowed 28 goals but also has 363 saves.
Both teams shoot the puck often, so goaltending will be a key factor in this series. But what else is new?
The Penguins have had a relatively-easy path to the Eastern Conference Finals. They beat the Islanders in six games and the Senators in five. On the other hand, the Bruins gave up a 3-0 series advantage and waited until the closing minutes of game seven to score two goals and beat the Maple Leafs. They also overcame one of the most viral moments in sports history when Tuukka Rask took an awkward tumble to allow a goal in an eventual loss to the Rangers.
Both teams are deep, although the Penguins reserves are markedly more talented. Who moves on to the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals It will come down to the the battle between the Pittsburgh scoring machine and the Boston defense.
Boston Bruins Coach Claude Julien is known as defensive-minded, and he will need every bit of his experience against the Penguins. Boston Captain Zdeno Chara, who has been likened to a "giant condor," gives Boston a defensive weapon that Pittsburgh has not yet seen in the playoffs.
Dennis Seidenber is underrated but has been a stellar defensemen all season. If they can limit Evgeni Malkin's (who has dominated the Bruins most of his career) ability to score and distribute the puck, it could disrupt the rest of the Penguin offense. Much of the Penguins offense runs through Malkin so slowing him down could be a game-changer.
The Bruins have to be careful with penalties as the Penguin's power play is devastating; they score on more than 25 percent of power plays. The Penguins had the second-most power play goals during the regular season with 42 (two behind the Capitals). Additionally, the Bruins allowed the New York Rangers to score four times during power play in the semi-finals. The Bruins simply cannot give the Penguins that kind of opportunity if they are going to win.
With a 87.12 penalty killing percentage, the Bruins were the fourth-best team in the league. The Penguins on the other hand were near the bottom of the league with a 79.64 penalty killing percentage.
Tuukka Rask has the third-best save percentage during the regular season with .927 and needs to be at his best to limit Pittsburgh scoring. If the Bruins win it will be because Rask was stellar. He was there to see what Tim "Timmaaahhh!" Thomas did in 2011, and you know he would like to be that guy in 2013.
Milan Lucic has come on during the playoffs after a lackluster regular season, by Lucic-standards at least. Tyler Seguin didn't score much so far in the playoffs, but did have a key assist in game seven to put the Bruins up one. If Seguin returns to his normal-self he adds a new dimension to Boston's offense that has been laking so far this post-season. David Krejci has five goals and 12 assists in 12 playoff games and is an offensive force. Rookie Torey Krug had three power-play goals in the Rangers series and has proven he relishes the big moments.
The Bruins were able to beat back the onslaught of the Rangers after a tough Game Four loss that will live on in YouTube Fame thanks to Tuukka Rask's tumble.
Tuukka Rask falls on Carl Hagelin's goal. May 23, 2013
The Bruins were able to overcome among the most viral moments in NHL playoff history, Tuukka Rask's awkward tumble to allow Carl Hagelin to score.
This is a Boston team that fought back to win one of the most unbelievable game sevens in NHL history.
"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 of the Penguins. Keep in mind the Miami Heat got beat by Dallas in their first Finals appearance.
After being bounced in the first round by the Flyers last year, the Penguins look like they are focused on bring the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh. On paper the Penguins look like they will cruise to the Stanley Cup Championship, as everyone has been predicting ever since they acquired Jussi Jokinen at the trade deadline. They have the skills players that were dominant during the playoffs. The team is averaging an incredible 4.27 goals a game during the playoffs, a whole goal better than Boston.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be the two best players in the National Hockey League, and the Pens top six best offensive players aren't too far behind. And the Penguins have a crazy-deep team that won't give Boston any time off. The Penguins also have the discipline to avoid penalties, something the Bruins need to emulate if they are going to win. All goalie Tomas Vokoun has to do is not loose games.
The one opening for the Bruins is the Penguins defense, which the Islanders can tell you can be spotty. But Pittsburgh is capable of playing shut-down defense. How good the Penguins play defensively will likely determine the series.
Who will win the Eastern Conference Finals,
The Boston Bruins or the Pittsburgh Penguins?
The Bruins and Penguins have split their past four playoff matches. In 1979 and 1980, the Bruins won while in 1991 and 1992 the Penguins did. This is the tie-breaker for all-time playoff victories, and the first time these teams have met in the playoffs in more than 20 years. The Penguins have the scorers to put the puck in the net at any time paired with the discipline to avoid penalties. Pittsburgh has dominated the Bruins during the regular season, winning the past six times they faced each other, as well as the last six times at the TD Garden.
The Bruins have two of the best defenders in hockey, some elite scorers and a proven goalie. And you know that there will more than one reference to the Boston bombing on Patriots Day, giving the Bruins a little more motivation (then again the Yankees weren't able to win the World Series against the Diamondbacks following 9-11).
I'm taking heart and destiny over scoring. Pittsburgh proved last year they aren't tough enough mentally despite their skills. Is one year really enough time to challenge one of the toughest, most resilient sports teams of this generation? Once push comes to shove the Bruins can will themselves to victory, as they did against the Maple Leafs. Chara and Seidenber were able to shut down the Sedin brothers and Alex Burrows in 2011, and they will do the same against Pittsburgh.
Don't forget, this is the team that did this:
Bruins in seven.
But look out for the Penguins in 2014.
Eastern Conference Schedule:
- Saturday, June 1 - Game 1 in Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. NBC - tickets
- Monday, June 3 - Game 2: in Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. NBC- tickets
- Wednesday, June 5 - Game 3: in Boston, 8 p.m. NBC- tickets
- Friday, June 7 - Game 4: in Boston, 8 p.m. NBC- tickets
- Sunday, June 9 - Game 5: in Pittsburgh, 8 p.m. NBC- tickets
- Tuesday, June 11 - Game 6: in Boston, TBD NBC- tickets
- Wednesday, June 12 - Game 7: in Pittsburgh, TBD NBC - tickets
*Grantland's Bill Barnwell had a great post on how betting works.