Bruins vs. Penguins Would Be Dream Matchup for Eastern Conference Finals

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5:  Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins wait for the puck drop on a face off on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Boston defeated Pittsburgh 3-1.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Zdeno Chara is the new Ray Bourque. Sidney Crosby is the new Super Mario.

Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask fill the pads once occupied by Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin. Marc-Andre Fleury is this generation’s Tom Barrasso.

Tyler Seguin has the potential to at least one day concoct the same level of scoring potency as Cam Neely while Milan Lucic already  has similar physical attributes. Patrice Bergeron is the player to look for in a latter-day Craig Janney/Adam Oates.

Crosby is naturally flanked by a bevy of other celestial performers much the same way Mario Lemieux once had a young Jaromir Jagr and a young Mark Recchi.

So, is the battle of the black and gold raring to re-release its heavyweight status for the first time since the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins played for the President’s Trophy two years in a row to start the 1990s?

The final scoreboard and scoresheet of Monday’s 3-1 Bruins victory at Consol Energy Center was not wholly indicative of what the mighty Penguins are capable of. But the way this game unfolded certainly underscored how compelling a playoff series these two clubs could formulate.

Crosby was kept pointless on the night, as were his fellow reliable scorers Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. But they still made the Bruins earn their fourth consecutive victory and 14th in their last 15 ventures.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins controls the puck as Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins gives chase in the third period on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Boston defeated P
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Crosby combined with linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz to test Thomas 13 times on Monday. Malkin tied Tyler Kennedy to lead all participants with eight registered stabs. As a whole, Pittsburgh amassed eight power-play shots, including seven over a cumulative 3:10 worth of 5-on-3 time.

For the most part, Boston’s usual suspects, of which there are likewise plenty, were restrained with equal effectiveness. The Bruins attempted 57 shots on Monday, only to see eight of them blocked and 22 go wide.

The first two goals of the game hopped off the blades of Gregory Campbell and Benoit Pouliot. Seguin did convert a third-period power play with primary aid from Bergeron, but Boston’s top six managed a mere nine shots on Fleury, including none for Nathan Horton.

Because Seguin’s strike was amidst a special teams’ segment, he along with Bergeron and linemate Brad Marchand finished with the minus-one rating for being on the ice when Matt Cooke zapped Thomas’ shutout. But unofficially speaking, the troika was as good as even for the night.

For that matter, the same holds true for Crosby, Malkin and Staal, none of whom were on the ice for any of the game’s four goals.

The advantage in both the shooting gallery and the faceoff department incessantly fluctuated for the better part of the night.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5:  Goaltender Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins makes a stop with his leg pad on a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins with the help of Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Bruins in the first period on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The Penguins ultimately ran away with the former, landing 12 unanswered pucks on Thomas between the 9:53 and 16:25 mark of the third period and finishing with a game total of 41 as opposed to Boston’s 27.

The Bruins claimed 38 draws while Pittsburgh won 35 and no individual pivot stood out on either side. On the contrary, Bergeron won 16 out of his 31 puck-drops while Crosby claimed 15 out of 31, another telling indication of a nightlong arm-wrestling match.

That is usually to be expected in a titanic tangle at any point in the season, but is practically obligatory in the depths of the postseason. And for the sake of pure, palatable publicity, much of what the Bruins and Penguins presented should leave the NHL salivating for more.

Specifically, Monday night’s bout featured tangible contributions from unlikely scorers, primal producers being robbed by otherworldly goaltending and physicality and grit perfectly exemplified by Malkin returning to action within three minutes of a heavy hit by Daniel Paille.

Surely, seeing as so many celestial skaters were kept off the scoresheet, there is much more where Monday’s bout came from.

Sure, there are other enticing possibilities for when the third round rolls around in about five months. Assuming the teams in question hold up, any two-pair featuring Boston, the New York Rangers or the Toronto Maple Leafs could make for an Original Six playoff series not seen in decades.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 5:  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save as Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins looks for a rebound in the second period on December 5, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvan
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Or the Pens could engage the Rangers or Flyers in a gritty divisional bout. Or, maybe if Dale Hunter pulls something of a 2009 Dan Bylsma, the Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin saga could catch a second wind (no guarantees on that front).

Or the Florida Panthers could follow through on their startling start and reinvigorate a long-lost interest among their fan base with a passport to the NHL’s final four. And if they had Washington or Buffalo in their way, then the victorious franchise would then be one step away from first-time fulfillment.

But as it stands now, what other Eastern Conference championship card could be more enriched than one pitting the conference’s last two representatives to win the Stanley Cup? One featuring an indubitably aspiring dynasty versus one of the more vocal threats to mess up the dynastic rise? One pitting arguably the game’s most overwhelming one-two offensive duo against perhaps the most fortified defenseman-goaltender combination?

For Boston buffs, Pittsburgh partisans and interested observers who want hockey on the forefront of national sports talk, Monday night should be taken for a thirst-rousing taster.