On Saturday, the Boston Bruins will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. They are two of the most consistently contending teams in the NHL, and the winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Here’s what you need to know before the series starts:
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Boston Bruins (def. Toronto, 4-3; def. New York Rangers, 4-1) – The Bruins have been on a roller coaster ride throughout these playoffs, going up 3-1 against the Maple Leafs in the first round, dropping two straight, then needing a miraculous three-goal comeback to win Game Seven, only to move on to a series against the Rangers that they were able to win handily. It’s tough to tell which Bruins team will show up against the Penguins; they could be just hitting their stride, or they could be poised for a huge letdown.
Pittsburgh Penguins (def. New York Islanders, 4-2; def. Ottawa, 4-1) – Though the Islanders gave the Penguins some problems in the first round, the Penguins have easily been the most impressive team in the playoffs so far. Three of their four victories against the Senators were by multiple goals, and they outscored Ottawa 22-11 in the five games of the series. They’re a force to be reckoned with, and are becoming the favorites to hoist the Cup.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: David Krejci, C, Bruins – Two years ago, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup due in large part to Krejci’s playoff success; he had 23 points in 25 games, including 4 game-winning goals. After being a non-factor in the 2011-2012 playoffs, Krejci is back to being the go-to offensive option for Boston, but as a facilitator as well as a scorer. His 12 assists are a career playoff high, and his 6 goals created lead the team. To keep up with the offensive juggernaut of Pittsburgh, Krejci will have to continue his great play, and get scoring help from teammates like Zdeno Charra and Nathan Horton. Jaromir Jagr has been virtually nonexistent in the postseason, and the goal production from defensemen like Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug, who may be the feel-good story of the playoffs, has been great, but likely not sustainable. The Bruins are a solid defensive team, yet their offense will be the key. The Penguins will get their goals, it’s up to Krejci to go get his.
Tomas Vokoun, G, Penguins – On a team with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla, all of whom have collected some impressive hardware over the years and are still playing at a high level, it’s a 36-year-old backup goalie who will be the x-factor for Pittsburgh. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury, while an All-Star caliber keeper during the regular season, has been a sieve in the postseason. Vokoun has stepped in as their top goalie, and has shone; he has the second-best save percentage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has shaved more than half a point off of his career Goals Against Average in the postseason. While the offensive prowess of the Penguins is one of the major storylines of these playoffs, it’s been Vokoun’s shoring up of the goal that makes them such a threat to win it all.
PREDICTION: No, Pittsburgh won’t be able to double up on their opponent’s scoring as they did against Ottawa, but their offense will still overwhelm the Bruins. Boston simply doesn’t have enough consistent scoring to get into a shootout with them. Look for the Bruins to perhaps steal a game in Pittsburgh early in the series, but for the Penguins to quickly regroup and step up their attack. When all is said and done, the Penguins will be making their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in four years. Penguins in six.