Boston Bruins' 5 Most Important Players in the Eastern Conference Final
To counter the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang, the Bruins will deploy a hard-nosed roster that will need to hit its peak at both ends of the ice.
Here are five players who will really need to step up for Boston to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
1. Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask knows exactly how far great goaltending can carry a team in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Two years ago, he watched from the bench as Tim Thomas led the Bruins to the Cup with two months of superb postseason play.
Rask has filled Thomas' rather large skates quite well this season, but he has yet to prove that he is a championship-caliber goaltender.
If he can slow down Pittsburgh's dominant offense, he will carve out his own place in Bruins lore.
The 25-year-old goaltender has been strong through two rounds, with the exception of a Game 4 meltdown in New York City. His .928 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average this postseason have him set to earn major money in the offseason, but the Bruins will feel a whole lot more comfortable committing their future to the young Finn if he helps to steal this series.
Opposite from Rask, the Pens will deploy Tomas Vokoun, who until recently backed up the struggling Marc-Andre Fleury. Vokoun has enjoyed a long career in the NHL, but has never tasted postseason success.
On paper, the Bruins should have the edge in the goaltending department, which could even the playing field in the series. However, the pressure will be on Rask to make sure that advantage translates to the ice.
2. Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron has come up clutch on a few occasions this postseason and the Bruins' most dynamic player will need to keep it up in the third round.
Though he has plenty of ability in the offensive end, Bergeron has made a name for himself with his outstanding effort in all three zones. The defending Frank J. Selke Trophy winner is set to go head to head with Sidney Crosby.
Bergeron should have a major advantage in the faceoff circle, where his 63.5 winning percentage dwarfs Crosby's 51.4 percent success rate. Faceoff dominance will be a key part of Boston's effort to keep the puck away from Crosby and his high-scoring teammates.
The Bruins' alternate captain will also lead Boston's penalty kill, which will need to shut down Pittsburgh's league-leading power play. The Pens' man advantage has scored 13 times in 11 games so far this postseason.
If Bergeron can win his duel with the best player on the planet, the Bruins will likely win the series.
3. Dennis Seidenberg
Zdeno Chara will face plenty of challenges with the Penguins forwards, but there might be more pressure on the Bruins' second-best defenseman, Dennis Seidenberg.
Two years ago, Seidenberg enjoyed a marvelous playoff run, helping Chara shut down the likes of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and the Sedin twins en route to the Cup.
He'll need to be as good this June while facing an even greater challenge.
Seidenberg's health will be a major question mark early in the series. The German defenseman missed the first four games of the team's conference semifinal after suffering a lower-body injury in Game 7 against Toronto.
He looked sluggish and rusty in Game 5 against New York and was visibly shaken up by two huge hits from Chris Kreider. If Seidenberg doesn't get up to 100 percent, the Bruins will be severely handicapped.
Though rookies Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton have excelled in the playoffs so far, veteran leadership in the defensive zone will be crucial against the Penguins. Dennis Seidenberg has the expertise to be a shutdown blueliner, but his body will have to hold up.
4. Tyler Seguin
Tyler Seguin might be the Boston Bruins' most offensively talented player, but he also happens to be the streakiest. Despite the youngster's best efforts, including a team-leading 45 shots on goal, the 2013 playoffs have not seen a hot streak.
Demoted to Boston's third line, Seguin could not find the back of the net until Game 4 of the conference semifinal, when he finally beat Henrik Lundqvist on a rebound chance.
Seguin has three points in his last two games and might be trending upward, but plenty of questions remain. As the Bruins prepare for a potential shootout against the NHL's best offense, they will need all of their guns firing.
At times, Seguin has shown the ability to take over games with his speed and hands and he can be point-per-game player when he plays with confidence.
If he can beat Tomas Vokoun early in the series and get hot like he did two years ago in a conference final series against Tampa Bay, then he'll add a lethal weapon to the Bruins' arsenal.
If not, the Bruins' third line will continue to be a laughing stock, limiting Boston's ability to roll four lines.
5. Jaromir Jagr
The NHL's active playoff points leader, Jaromir Jagr won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early 90s. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer will look to break out of his slump with an explosive homecoming this weekend.
Much like Tyler Seguin, Jagr has produced plenty of chances, but he has yet to score this postseason.
The forechecking monster is bound to score sometime and a return to Pittsburgh might be just what it takes to get him going.
The notoriously hard-working Jagr will have his pride on the line, especially in light of the Jarome Iginla saga that led to Jagr's arrival in Boston. As the Bruins' second choice at the trade deadline, Jagr will hope to prove that he was a better option than Iginla all along.
22 years after beating the Bruins in the conference final on the way to the Stanley Cup as a rookie, Jagr will look to flip the script in what may be his final playoff run.
But to do so, he will probably have to score.