NHL Playoff Schedule 2013: Breaking Down Eastern Conference Final

Donald WoodFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

The 2013 NHL playoffs have been flat-out amazing thus far and the schedule is only heating up, as the Eastern Conference Final has been set and the excitement over the marquee battle is building exponentially.

Hockey fans couldn’t have asked for a better matchup than the Eastern Conference war between the offensive-minded Pittsburgh Penguins and the defense-first Boston Bruins.

As the two clear-cut top contenders, this is a series that could rival this year's Stanley Cup Final. With the weight of the entire conference resting on the shoulders of the Penguins and Bruins, this will be one of the best series that NHL fans get all postseason.

Enjoy it.

Eastern Conference Final Schedule

  Date Time Home Away TV
Game 1 June 1

8 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Penguins Boston Bruins NBC
Game 2
June 3

8 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Penguins Boston Bruins NBC Sports
Game 3
June 5

8 p.m. ET

Boston Bruins Pittsburgh Penguins NBC Sports
Game 4
June 7

8 p.m. ET

Boston Bruins Pittsburgh Penguins NBC Sports
Game 5
June 9

8 p.m. ET

Pittsburgh Penguins Boston Bruins NBC Sports
Game 6
June 11
TBD Boston Bruins Pittsburgh Penguins NBC Sports
Game 7
June 12
TBD Pittsburgh Penguins Boston Bruins NBC Sports


Pittsburgh Penguins’ Keys to Victory

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter this series as the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference, but the team has looked far from impervious against stiff competition this season.

After taking the easiest road possible by beating the eighth-seeded New York Islanders and seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators, the Penguins are in for the toughest fight of the postseason against the aggressive Bruins.

While Pittsburgh dominated in both the first and second rounds, the Penguins lost games when the competition played physical and brought the attack to them. While the Senators and Islanders weren’t able to sustain that pressure, Boston can and will.

The best decision Pittsburgh made all postseason was sitting starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and going with Tomas Vokoun. Since taking over, the veteran netminder has gone 6-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

Those are game-changing numbers.

Add in the fact that the Penguins are still the most effective offensive team in the league—six players have 10 or more points this postseason—and Pittsburgh is the kind of team built to push the defensive limits of the Bruins.

Led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, the offensive-minded forwards of the Penguins will be flying around the ice during this series trying to match Boston’s physicality. If Pittsburgh stands toe-to-toe with the Bruins, the Penguins will win this series.


Boston Bruins’ Keys to Victory

The Bruins aren’t the flashy team that the Penguins have become, but they do two things better than any other team left in the playoffs: play strong defense and keep the puck out of their own net.

Pittsburgh's squad is predicated on its offensive explosiveness, but it has not met a team this postseason with the defensive prowess of the Bruins. During the regular season, Boston ranked third in the league in goals against and fourth on the penalty kill.

While the penalty-killing unit for the Bruins is effective, it will have to be flawless against the incredibly dangerous power-play lines for the Penguins. With Crosby, Malkin and Iginla attacking the net, Boston’s penalty-killing unit is in for its biggest test.

Pittsburgh has questions in net with the battle between Vokoun and Fleury, but the effectiveness of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask thus far is unquestionable. Not only has Rask started every game for Boston, his 2.22 goals-against average and .922 save percentage are flat-out impressive.

Led by Zdeno Chara and Boston’s elite defensive group, the Bruins are playing well in front of Rask and will have the physical and defensive edge in this series.

Crosby has dominated the Bruins despite their hard-nosed style of play. He has amassed 32 points in 22 career games against Boston. so Boston's only game plan must be to eliminate the top scorers on the Penguins with aggressive forechecking and intense defense.

The Bruins have to punch Pittsburgh in the mouth from the opening faceoff of Game 1 and never let off the throttle. The Penguins are just too good for the Bruins to not stay aggressive throughout the series.


Series Prediction: Boston Beats Pittsburgh, 4-3