Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals Preview: #1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #4 Boston Bruins

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Finals
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #4 Boston Bruins
Best of Seven Series Format: 2-2-1-1-1
Series Price: (Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker) Penguins -195 / Bruins +165
Game #1, Saturday, June 1, 2013, 8:05 pm Eastern, TV: NBC
Consol Energy Center – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Opening Line: Pittsburgh -170 / Boston +150
Current Line: Pittsburgh -175 / Boston +155
Opening Total: 5 1/2 under -110 / 5 1/2 over -110
Current Total: 5 1/2 under -125 / 5 1/2 over +105

Boston and Philadelphia meet for the second year in a row in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins meet in the Eastern Conference Finals which begin Saturday in Pittsburgh.

Usually when you think of Boston and Pittsburgh sports rivalries, you think of the Patriots and Steelers. However, the two cities’ hockey teams don’t really like each other either. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins meet in the playoffs for the fifth time in history as the Eastern Conference Finals get underway in Pittsburgh Saturday night. Both teams have won the Stanley Cup in the last 4 years as ahve the two teams battling it out in the West the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Boston and Pittsburgh haven’t met in the playoffs since 1992.

However, there is some serious bad blood between the two teams. Bruins’ fans still remember a vicious  cheap shot by the Penguins’ Ulf Samuelsson on Bruins’ legend Cam Neely that shortened the hall-of-famer’s career in the 1991 conference finals. More recently, current Penguins’ left wing Matt Cooke ended the career of Bruins’ center Marc Savard with a blindside check in 2010. Earlier this season, the Calgary Flames traded veteran certain Hall-Of-Famer Jarome Iginla to the Penguins after Iginla spurned a trade to the Bruins with his no-trade clause. The Bruins acquired another veteran legend in Jaomir Jagr from the Dallas Stars as a back-up plan. Jagr played for many years with the Penguins.

Pittsburgh had the best record in the East with 72 points in the lockout-shortened 48 game regular season. The Penguins survived a shaky start against the #8 seeded New York Islanders to win a tough series in 6 games in the first round. Pittsburgh would dispatch the #7 seeded Ottawa Senators in 5 games. The Penguins would outscore the Senators 13-5 in the last two games of the series. Pittsburgh has had a week off since their second round win.

Boston finished with 62 points, one point behind the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division. The Bruins were seeded #4 in the playoffs and would face the #5 seeded Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. The Bruins took a 3-1 series lead, but the Leafs would force game 7 in Boston. The Maple Leafs would take 4-1 lead into the third period. Toronto still led 4-2 with under 90 seconds to go, but the Bruins scored two goals in 31 seconds to tie it up. The Bruins would go on to win in overtime against the shell-shocked Maple Leafs. The Bruins made short work of the #6 seeded New York Rangers in the second round winning in 5 games. It was the first playoff meetings between the two original 6 rivals since 1974.   The Rangers avoided a sweep with a 4-3 overtime win in game 4 at home, but Boston would win the series in game 5 at home with a 3-1 win. Boston has also had a week off.

Pittsburgh won all three meetings against Boston this season. The Penguins won 3-2 in Pittsburgh March 12 and March 17 2-1. The third meeting in Boston was scheduled the same week as the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon but was postponed a day because of the manhunt for the suspects. Pittsburgh would win 3-2 in an emotional contest.

Boston is coached by Claude Julien. The Bruins are averaging 3.17 goals per game and giving up 2.33 in the playoffs. Boston is averaging 38 shots per game and giving up 33. The Bruins are 7 for 32 on the power play or 21.9%. Boston has allowed 1 short handed goal. The Bruins have killed 30 of 37 penalties in the playoffs or 81.1%. The Bruins have one short  handed goal. The Bruins have won 57.5% of faceoffs, which is the best among playoff teams. The Bruins are averaging 9.5 penalty minutes per game.

Goalie Tukka Rask is 8-4 in the playoffs with a 2.22 goals against average. He has allowed 28 goals on 391 shots faced. His save percentage is .928.

Center David Krejci leads the playoffs with 17 points, including 12 assists. Right wing Nathan Horton has 5 goals and 7 assists. Defenseman Zdeno Chara has 2 goals and 9 assists. Left wing Milan Lucic has 3 goals and 7 assists. Left wing Brad Marchand has 2 goals and 7 assists. Center Patrice Bergeron has 3 goals and 4 assists. Rookie defenseman Tyler Krug had 4 goals and an assist in the series against the Rangers. He was only playing because the Bruins were without injured defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Reden and Andrew Ference.  Seidenberg returns for the series against the Pens, but Reden and Ference are still day to day. The Bruins need to get more production from Jagr who has 4 assists and talented young center Tyler Seguin who only has a goal and 3 assists in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is coached by Dan Bylsma. The Penguins lead the playoffs in scoring with 4.27 per game, and are allowing 2.54 goals per game. Pittsburgh averages 33.1 shots per game and gives up 33.4 per game. The Penguins have been effective on the power play converting 13 of 46 chances, or 28.3%. Pittsburgh did allow 3 short handed goals in the Ottawa series. The Penguins have killed 35 of 39 penalties or 89.7%. Pittsburgh has scored 2 short handed goals. The Penguins are 50.1% on faceoffs. Pittsburgh averages 15.1 penalty minutes a game in the playoffs.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fluery started the first 4 games against the Islanders but struggled with a 3.40 GAA and a save percentage of .891. He was benched in favor of Tomas Vokoun, who made several playoff runs when he was the starter for the Nashville Predators. Voukoun has gone 6-1 since then with a GAA of 1.85 and a save percentage of .941. Both Vokoun and Fleury have each recorded a shutout in the post-season. Vokoun has allowed 14 goals on 239 shots faced.

Center Evgeni Malkin has 4 goals and 12 assists. Defenseman Kris Letang has 3 goals and 13 assists. Center Sidney Crosby has 7 goals and 8 assists. He missed the first game of the playoffs with a broken jaw suffered late in the regular season. Crosby will likely win the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP. Right wing Iginla has 4 goals and 8 assists.  Right wing Pascal Dupuis (7 G, 3 A) and left wing James Neal (6 G, 4 A) each have 10 points. Defenseman Paul Martin (2 G, 7 A) and left wing Chris Kunitz (4 G, 5 A) both have 9 points. Center Joe Vitale is day to day for undisclosed reasons.

This should be a very physical series, but it also has the potential to be high-scoring. Pittsburgh is the only team to score more than 4 goals a game in the playoffs. Boston is second with 3.17 goals per game. Pittsburgh seems to have settled their goaltending woes with the switch to Vokoun. Boston still has some injuries to the defensive players but some young kids including Krug stepped up and played well. Still, I think Pittsburgh has a little too much. I like the Penguins in sic hard fought games, but I see some one goal games and maybe even some overtime games.

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