Breakdown: Eastern Conference final, Penguins vs. Bruins
The cream has risen in the East.
Though only the fourth seed, the Bruins always have been perceived as the greatest threat to the Penguins returning to the Stanley Cup Final.
This showdown appears to be a contrast in philosophies: the Pretty Penguins vs. the Big Bad Bruins. However, to assess these clubs based on their historical reputations would be foolish.
The Bruins are physical, but centers Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin possess elite skill as does that Jaromir Jagr fellow who joined Boston at the trade deadline.
Yeah, him again.
Jagr's cross-ice passing tortured the Penguins while he played for Philadelphia last postseason. Like those Flyers, these Bruins have forwards (notably Milan Lucic) who will go hard to the net to cash in.
The Bruins likely need to find more offense than they did against Toronto or the New York Rangers because the Penguins are scoring like it's 1989, averaging 4.27 goals in 11 playoff games.
Captain Sidney Crosby has seven goals, and fellow former MVP center Evgeni Malkin has 16 points. But neither has consistently found that gear that separates them from, well, everybody else.
Even without that gear, Crosby and Malkin are nightmare matchups for the Bruins defense, which looked like it had slowed before it was battered this postseason.
GM Ray Shero will not say it, but he probably had the Bruins on his mind when he acquired wingers Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, defenseman Douglas Murray and forward Jussi Jokinen, the latter a faceoff force who could somewhat offset the usual dominance on draws by Bergeron.
Iginla chose the Penguins over the Bruins in March.
His history outside of Calgary may be defined by this series.
The Penguins went 3-0-0 against the Bruins. They outscored Boston, 8-5, in those games.
Penguins: C Brandon Sutter (2 goals): LW Chris Kunitz, RW Beau Bennett, LW Jussi Jokinen (tied, 2 assists); Kunitz, Jokinen (tied, 3 points).
Bruins: C Tyler Seguin (3 goals); C Patrice Bergeron, D Zdeno Chara (tied, 2 assists); Seguin, Chara (tied, 3 points).
Penguins: Tomas Vokoun (2-0-0, .958 save percentage, 1.50 goals-against average), Marc-Andre Fleury (1-0-0, .875 save percentage, 2.00 goals-against average).
Bruins: Tuukka Rask (0-2-0, .881 save percentage, 2.54 goals-against average), Anton Khudobin (0-1-1, .813 save percentage, 4.61 goals-against average).
DAN BYLSMA, PENGUINS
Playoff record: 36-25, won Stanley Cup (2009).
CLAUDE JULIEN, BRUINS
Playoff record: 48-38, won Stanley Cup (2011)
The Penguins and Bruins have split four series.
1979 STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINAL
Bruins 4, Penguins 0
The Don Cherry-coached Bruins, on their way to a showdown with rival Montreal, ran roughshod over an overmatched Penguins squad. The Bruins swept the Penguins, racking up 16 goals in four games.
1980 STANLEY CUP PRELIMINARY ROUND
Bruins 3, Penguins 2
The Penguins led, 2-1, before the Bruins stormed back with an 8-3 road win in Game 4 and a 6-2 close-out victory in Game 5 at Boston Garden.
1991 WALES CONFERENCE FINAL
Penguins 4, Bruins 2
Trailing, 2-0, Kevin Stevens promised a series win. The Penguins won the next four games by a combined score of 20-7. Ulf Samuelsson's controversial hit on Cam Neely lingers for fans of both clubs.
1992 WALES CONFERENCE FINAL
Penguins 4, Bruins 0
Jaromir Jagr won Game 1 in overtime for the Penguins, but the rest of the series was mostly noncompetitive. The Penguins burnt the Bruins for 15 goals over the last three games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
KRIS LETANG, PENGUINS
His ability to win puck races and control tempo could shape the series. The Bruins thrive on forecheck-pressure and offensive-zone possession. The Penguins' system is based on quick puck movement from defensemen. Letang's decision making will be challenged. If he cuts down on mistakes, his ability to carry the puck and make plays is something for which the Bruins have no solution.
TYLER SEGUIN, BRUINS
Speed and skill are what tax the Penguins most. The Bruins are not blessed with many players who combine both attributes, but Seguin is the exception. Aside from goalie Tim Thomas, he was arguably the biggest difference-maker for Boston's 2011 Cup run, which he owned offensively from the third round on. He scored three of the Bruins' five regular-season goals against the Penguins.