Can the Pittsburgh Penguins Beat the Boston Bruins in a 7-Game Series?

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IIMarch 11, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Chris Kunitz, center, celebrates his goal with teammate James Neal (18) as Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask (40) stands in the net in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

If the Pittsburgh Penguins are Superman, then the Boston Bruins are Doomsday. In the DC Universe, the super-villain was literally put together from scratch to be an unstoppable force that could not be contained in any prison or defeated by any man.

In the comics, he's the only creature to have ever killed the Man of Steel, and he did it by simply beating him to death. That strategy should sound familiar to anyone who has witnessed a Bruins playoff series over the last few seasons.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Their style of play stands in stark contrast to the way the Penguins go about their business. The B's aren't simple brutes. They're big, mean and talented. Moreover, they are incredibly tough to beat in a seven-game playoff series.

If the road to the Stanley Cup runs through Boston, then this is the team that Pittsburgh needs to be prepared to meet head-on. Is it a series that they can win, though?

As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is separated into two sections: the B's and Pens and then everyone else. It's a two-horse race to be the top team in the Conference, with 11 points separating the second-place Bruins and the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

That's a wide margin between the cream and the crop, especially when you consider that only five points stand between the top team in the Western Conference—the St. Louis Blues—and the fifth-place San Jose Sharks.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Barring a catastrophic meltdown in Boston or Pittsburgh, it seems that these two titans are destined for a rematch of 2013's Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins, of course, would hope for a different outcome this time around. They were swept out of the postseason last year, and the Bruins hardly seemed to break a sweat doing so.

Pittsburgh's forwards were frustrated and shut down by a remarkably stingy Bruins defense. The Penguins continued to try to play their run 'n gun style against a Boston team that seemed all too happy to simply wait for the opposition to make mistakes.

The Bruins hit Sidney Crosby whenever there was a chance, and the wear was visible by the end of the series. Boston stuck a shadow on Evgeni Malkin, who was clearly agitated by the fourth game. This is how the Bruins are constructed. They aren't a regular-season team—at least, they weren't put together with the regular season in mind.

This is a squad that wears opposing players down by leaning on them night after night. One of the biggest keys in a playoff matchup between these two teams would be head coach Dan Bylsma shifting away from his typical reluctance to try and line match.

The logic behind simply rolling out four lines in succession simple. In putting Crosby out on the ice, regardless of where Zdeno Chara is, Bylsma doesn't allow Boston head coach Claude Julien to dictate his bench and minutes played.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

In pursuing this line of thought, Bylsma also isn't putting his players in a situation where they're most likely to succeed. Last year, we all witnessed Chara hopping over the boards whenever Crosby did without Julien even needing to give him the tap.

Still, Bylsma is at the helm here, and his stubborn best-on-best approach just doesn't seem to work against Boston. The power play would need to be much better as well. With or without Kris Letang, Pittsburgh doesn't have a prayer against the Bruins if it don't convert on its opportunities with the extra man.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The Pens came up with zero power-play tallies in last year's Eastern Conference Final, and that allowed Boston to play with all the sandpaper it wanted. What's a two-minute roughing minor on Crosby when the Penguins aren't able to capitalize?

The X-factor in any potential rematch is Marc-Andre Fleury. He of the catastrophic meltdown that likely cost the loaded Penguins a shot at the Stanley Cup last year. By the time Pittsburgh faced Boston, Fleury had been spelled by backup Tomas Vokoun for a round-and-a-half.

There's no way around it—he needs to be better than Tuukka Rask. Fleury can't buckle under the pressure against Boston, and he can't fold up shop and take his knives home when there are too many Bruins in his kitchen.

With one of the most talented lineups in the NHL, despite the absence of Letang and Pascal Dupuis, there's no doubt that Pittsburgh has the horses to run with Boston. It's just a matter of mental fortitude. The Penguins can beat the Bruins, but they can't do it unless Bylsma is willing to change his course, the star players can keep their cool and Fleury doesn't choke when the spotlight is brightest again.