By Mike Miccoli
The answer is yes–yes, they do. Not only do the Boston Bruins have a chance to make this an evenly-contested series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have a chance to beat them.
I’ve been wrong before, though. I was wrong about how the Bruins would fare in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was wrong about the way the series against the New York Rangers would play out. I was even wrong about how the Bruins’ defense, with Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and Wade Redden out, would be the weakest part of the team’s game.
This time, things are different.
The Bruins look like a team destined for success, playing some of their best hockey all season by rallying in Game 7 to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs and making quick work of the New York Rangers in five games. For the second time in three years, the Bruins will make a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, becoming one of the final four teams remaining in a shortened, grueling 2013 NHL season. It’s becoming harder to bet against these Bruins.
Now, they’ll get to face-off against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1992. It has been 21 years since the Bruins got swept by Pittsburgh en route to the Penguins’ second Stanley Cup in as many years. Their first Cup the year before also went through Boston.
But even more than past series match-ups, it’s fitting that two of the best teams from the Eastern Conference in the past few years finally get to play each other. There will be no shortage of storylines, either. For Pittsburgh, you have two of the best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the guy who played a heavy hand in ending Marc Savard’s career in Matt Cooke, and Jarome Iginla, the player who was almost a Bruin but decided to to play in Pittsburgh instead.
It’s a similar story for the Bruins. Jaromir Jagr played for the Penguins the last time the two teams met in the postseason and has a permanent place in Penguins folklore to this day. You could even include Matt Bartkowski in the mix. Hailing from Pittsburgh, he was one of the pieces set to be sent to Calgary in exchange for Iginla. Now, Bartkowski is a mainstay on the Bruins blue line and is having an impressive postseason.
Aside from the storylines, the series will be an interesting, fast-paced one to watch. The Bruins do need to play almost flawless hockey to keep up with the action-packed offense from the Penguins. The defense will need to be solid in order for the Bruins to be successful. If the blue line is able to contain the Penguins offense, the Bruins should find ways to win hockey games.
Not only do the Bruins have a chance to stay in this series with Pittsburgh, but they have a chance to win it, too. The Bruins’ offense needs to find ways to expose Tomas Vokoun and get pucks in the net. To keep consistent with their success from the last series, the defense should continue to fire shots from the point, while putting forwards in front to screen. It worked against Henrik Lundqvist and could work against Vokoun.
Tuukka Rask will also face his biggest test of the postseason, seeing a dynamic depth-filled Penguins roster. If Rask continues his sharp play, he should be able to stifle and frustrate the Penguins’ offense.
But the Bruins need to score. Chase Vokoun one game, and the possibility of starting Marc-Andre Fleury could come into play. The Bruins are in a delicate position where once false move could cost them the game. Being inconsistent as a team throughout the regular season is worrisome, but the Bruins look like they’ve fully turned the corner.
And if that’s the case, the Bruins will throw everything they have as underdogs towards the Penguins.