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Bruins' Bergeron looks to slow down Penguins' Crosby in finals

| Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 11:25 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby plays against the Islanders Friday, May 3, at Consol Enrgy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Bruins' Patrice Bergeron plays againt the Penguins earlier this season at Consol Enrgy Center.

Hockey's greatest player will match up against perhaps the game's best shutdown forward when the Eastern Conference final begins this week at Consol Energy Center.

The showdown — Sidney Crosby figures to see Boston's Patrice Bergeron almost every time he touches the ice — could determine whether the Penguins or Bruins advance to the Stanley Cup Final. What a matchup it should be.

Crosby compares Bergeron to Detroit's star two-way centers, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, both of whom he holds in high regard.

“He's right up there,” Crosby said. “He's just so aware out there. There isn't anything he doesn't do well.”

Boston coach Claude Julien figures to play Bergeron against Crosby as often as possible, and he won't meet resistance from the Penguins. Coach Dan Bylsma rarely plays matchup games, and Crosby likes taking on other teams' best players, his philosophy being that if he topples the opposition's finest players, Evgeni Malkin and the others should handle the rest.

“You play this game to play against the best,” Bergeron said. “This is going to be a great challenge.”

Crosby and Bergeron know each other well.

They represented Team Canada during the 2006 World Championships and thrived while playing on the same line. Crosby and Bergeron became friends, and their careers have been uniquely connected.

Both have won a Stanley Cup while winning Game 7 of the Final on the road. Both have battled career-threatening concussions.

And both are playing better than ever. Crosby has spearheaded the high-flying Penguins to the role of Stanley Cup favorite, and Bergeron's heroics helped Boston overcome a seemingly insurmountable Toronto lead in Game 7 of the opening round.

“And it isn't just defense with Bergeron,” Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “The guy has a ton of skill offensively, too.”

Crosby respects Bergeron's game and, in particular, finds dealing with him in the faceoff circle a challenge. While Crosby is among the game's best at winning draws, Bergeron is the gold standard.

In Crosby's career, he has won 44.2 percent of faceoffs against Boston. He has won the majority of his faceoffs against the Bruins in only four of 22 career meetings.

Bergeron is the biggest reason Crosby struggles in the faceoff circle against Boston.

“He's just so, so strong,” Crosby said. “It's usually strong side against strong side (Crosby's left circle, Bergeron's right) when we're taking a faceoff together. He takes a lot of pride in it. When you're playing against someone who competes that hard to win every faceoff, you need some help from your teammates, too. Hopefully you win some clean, but you know you might not.”

Bergeron and Crosby have met 18 times. Crosby has recorded 27 points in those meetings, giving him 1.5 points per game against Bergeron. His career points-per-game average is 1.42, fourth-highest in history. Despite numbers that suggest Bergeron's presence doesn't hinder him, Crosby says otherwise.

“Nothing is easy against him,” Crosby said.

Bergeron feels the same about Crosby.

“He's a special player,” Bergeron said. “You have to be aware of him. He's probably the best player in the world.”

There will be no trickery in these game plans.

Crosby will take his regularly scheduled shifts. Bergeron will be waiting.

“I expect to play against him,” Bergeron said. “He's always getting better, always improving. I'll try to do the same.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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