5 Keys for Boston Bruins to Pluck Pittsburgh Penguins in Conference Final
The Boston Bruins will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final to see who will go on to play for the Stanley Cup. The Pens won all three meetings during the abbreviated regular season, all by one goal.
Pittsburgh is undoubtedly a formidable foe, and is just four years removed from winning its most recent Stanley Cup crown. The Bruins, though, are just two years removed from their last league title.
Despite Pittsburgh's skill, speed and scoring prowess, the Bruins are big enough, strong enough and skilled enough to stand a solid chance of winning—but there's at least five things they need to do starting Saturday to make it so, or else suffer coming up short in a short series.
1) Check, Check and Check Some More
It's no secret the Bruins will have to play physical in all three zones if they're going to beat the Pens. Everyone knows real Penguins can't fly (duh), but their Pittsburgh counterparts can certainly motor around a rink. Letting them skate with impunity would impose all sorts of defensive nightmares the Bruins wouldn't recover from.
Not that physical play has ever been a problem in Beantown. Milan Lucic leads the Bruins this postseason with 55 hits, while Johnny Boychuk has put up 45 hits and Zdeno Chara has 44 hits. Boston has 11 players who have totaled 20 hits or more, and 18 skaters in all with double-digit hits.
No, hitting shouldn't be a problem. However...
2) Don't Take Unnecessary Penalties
That being said, getting whistled for boarding or roughing isn't going to help Boston's cause, as all that's really needed is to separate the puck-carrier from the puck, not take his head off to boot.
Power plays for Pittsburgh means more room for the likes of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang and company to set things up, get off quality shots and likely score.
Did I miss anyone? Oh yeah...
3) Keep Sidney Crosby in Check
Though the Penguins have proven they can win without Crosby, having him in their lineup is obviously a huge boost to their offense.
It could behoove the Bruins to have someone assigned to No. 87 to make his life miserable the next few weeks, kind of like what Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg did against Chicago's Jonathan Toews for most of their Western Conference series.
The Bruins could have someone follow Crosby everywhere he goes, and not allow him sufficient time and space to make plays. Boston's "little ball of hate," Brad Marchand, who can also generate offense, should fill the bill nicely.
4) Get Solid Play from Tuukka Rask
The Bruins might have swept the Rangers if Rask didn't have a tough time in Game 4, especially on a fluke goal he allowed to Carl Hagelin where Rask fell down and then couldn't deflect a slowly-siding puck with his stick.
The Finnish backstop will be forced to make many hard saves against Pittsburgh, and soft goals like the Hagelin one would be killers.
Rask is 8-4 so far this spring in 12 games with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage as he advances to his first conference semifinal. His teammates will be looking for him to turn in a Tim Thomas 2011-like performance to get them to the final.
And speaking of goalies...
5) Make It Rough on Pittsburgh's Netminders
Fresh off a five-game conquest of Ottawa, Tomas Vokoun is on a roll after a series of gaffes by starter Marc-Andre Fleury in the opening round against the Islanders banished him to the Pittsburgh bench.
Whoever's in net for the Pens (although the whole hockey world knows it'll be Vokoun, barring an injury), the Bruins have to make life difficult for him. Not necessarily by bumping him when he roams from his cage—although that's not entirely a bad idea—but just basically getting in his face and making it tough for him to see shots from the point or get to rebounds in front.
Boston used 6'9" captain Zdeno Chara to set up screens against Toronto in Game 7 in the first round and it worked to perfection, as the Bruins scored three times in the final 10 minutes en route to winning in OT.
If they do all those things, the Bruins stand a good chance of winning the series in six or seven games. If not, the Pens could make short work of them and send them off to a second sour summer.