With a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series, the Boston Bruins accomplished the following: they eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs, caused Stan Fischler to eat some beans (with a side of crow), ended all talk of 2010 (hopefully, mercifully), and set up a long-awaited and much hoped for playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This will be the Bruins second trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the past three years, after also being one win away from the final four in both 2009 (lost to the Carolina Hurricanes) and 2010 (lost to the Philadelphia Flyers … oops, there it is again.) Boston, of course, won the Stanley Cup in 2011, followed by an early exit in the 2012 playoffs at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
Over the course of that run by Boston, the Penguins have achieved their own mix of success: a Final appearance in 2008, a Stanley Cup victory in 2009, a second round loss to the Canadiens in 2010, a second round loss to the Lightning in 2011 (after blowing a 3-1 series lead), and a first round exit in 2012 after a memorable series with the Flyers.
Throughout all these various and respective successes and failures, these two clubs – widely believed to be at the head of the class in the East over the past number of years – have not met in the playoffs. In fact, the last time they matched up in the postseason was in 1992, when the Penguins beat the Bruins in the Conference Finals for the second year in a row en route to winning their second Stanley Cup.
Despite that, there is no shortage of juicy storylines in play as these two teams get set to face off, which only serve to heighten the anticipation in regards to what could be a series to remember.
1. Jarome Iginla Traded To
Hey, remember this?
Bruins trade Matt Bartkowski, Alex Khokhlachev, and a first-round pick for JAROME GODDAMN IGINLA http://t.co/0Y3tF0rMuf
— Stanley Cup of Chowder (@cupofchowdah) March 28, 2013
Yup, for one crazy night, we all thought that Jarome Iginla was indeed going to become a member of the Boston Bruins, until we woke up the next morning and realized he was now a Penguin, in a true “wtf?” moment.
In hindsight, it may not have been the worst non-trade, as the Bruins have made it this far without him while having to rely on Bartkowski due to some injuries on the blue line. Iginla has succeeded with the Penguins to the tune of 4 goals and 8 assists so far in the playoffs, but there’s no telling how well he would have fit in with the Bruins and whether he would have been as effective in Boston.
Long term, well, it’s never a bad thing to be able to retain a highly touted prospect like Alexander Khokhlachev. As for the first-rounder, they were able to use that in another deal which also helps to spice up this series.
2. Jaromir Jagr, The Ol’ Bear:
Just a few later, the Bruins made a deal with Dallas that sent forwards Lane MacDermid and Cody Payne (as well as a pick that became a first-rounder once the Bruins reached the ECF) to the Stars in exchange for Jaromir Jagr.
You know, the future hall of famer who has scored 1688 points in the NHL, as well as 193 in the playoffs, who won 2 Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and who so famously made his return to the NHL last year as a member of the Flyers, a.k.a. Pittsburgh’s biggest rival and the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year.
Nope, no history to speak of there.
Jagr currently owns the distinction of firing the most shots (36) without a goal in the 2013 playoffs, but he did score 16 in the regular season (including 6 on the PP), and all Bruins fans are hoping that he’s saving them all up in order to spurn his team from yesteryear when it counts the most.
Oh, and there’s also this:
3. Matt Cooke / Marc Savard
This is a storyline that Bruins fans need not be reminded of, but one that resonates any time these two teams are mentioned in the same breath. This one dates back to 2010, when this incident effectively ended Marc Savard’s playing career:
Now we’ve all heard that Matt Cooke has changed his ways (just don’t ask Eugene Melnyk about him), and this incident, as unfortunate as it was, is well in the past. right?
For the Bruins, for their fans, and especially for Marc Savard, the tragedy of it all still lingers with the knowledge that @MSavvy91 has taken his talents to twitter while not being able to contribute to and experience the recent success of this franchise.
The whole thing sucks, and surely nobody in and around the Bruins organization wants to see Matt Cooke & Co. compete for a Cup at their expense, in a situation that would be all too reminiscent of this hit by Ulf Samuelsson on Cam Neely in the 1991 Conference Finals that essentially served to cut the current Team President’s career short as well (consider that to be storyline 3b.)
4. Bruins vs Penguins: 2013 Tale Of The Tape
Pittsburgh swept the season series with the Bruins, winning all three games by a margin of one goal each.
On March 12, Pittsburgh won 3-2 after Boston coughed up a 2 goal 3rd period lead in a match up that featured Anton Khudobin and Marc-Andre Fleury, neither of whom is currently slated to see any action in this series. On March 17, the Penguins won 2-1 in a game where current starter Tomas Vokoun stopped 31 shots, and on April 20, Pittsburgh won 3-2 in an emotional game that had been postponed from the night prior due to events going on in the city surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing. It was also the first game between the two teams after the trade deadline, and featured this “fight” between Iginla and Nathan Horton.
Overall, the Bruins out shot the Penguins in these 3 games by a margin of 88 to 76, and each team scored 2 goals on the power play with Pittsburgh getting 3 more opportunities with the extra man (11 to 8).
Based on these three games and the context surrounding them, not to mention how the rosters have changed since, it’s difficult to gauge who has the advantage here. The fact is that Boston failed to beat Pittsburgh in 3 attempts, a narrative which will no doubt make the Penguins the favorites in this series.
5. Playoff Standouts and Surprises
Both of these teams struggled at times against their first round opponents, with Pittsburgh needing 6 games to get past the New York Islanders, and Boston being literally taken to the limit by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Once the Penguins decided to roll with Vokoun, things settled down and they were able to take care of the Ottawa Senators with relative ease. Their offense is clicking at a ridiculous pace right now, and they are averaging 4.27 goals per game and have 6 players who have put up double digits in points, with 2 more sitting on 9.
Boston is currently second in goals per game with 3.17, and also feature a balanced attack with significant depth up front.
In fact, 7 of the top 10 playoff scorers to date come from these two teams, with David Krejci leading the way with 17 points, followed directly by Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla, with Zdeno Chara coming in at 10.
The biggest surprise for the Bruins has been production from the back-end, most notably from Torey Krug who posted 4 goals in 5 games against the Rangers, the first rookie to achieve that mark in the playoffs. In total, the Bruins have 13 goals from their defencemen in comparison to 8 from the Penguins, a factor that may play a major part in determining a winner here. Don’t believe me? Ask Don Cherry.
In net, Tomas Vokoun has put up a GAA of 1.85 and a Sv% of .941 in 7 starts (6-1), while Tuukka Rask has GAA of 2.22 and a Sv% of .928. Neither goalie has ever played in the Conference Finals, and the wildcard here is always MAF, who, if called upon, has succeeded at this level in the past (before the wheels fell off in recent years.)
With all of the above in mind, it’s downright crazy to even begin to make a prediction with any amount of authority. My sense, my hope is that this series will go the distance so we can get the most out of this much anticipated battle.
Yes, it’s Bruins vs Penguins, something we’ve all been waiting for.
Two of the very best in the East over the past half decade or so, and it’s time to figure out who has what it takes to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It all starts … whenever the Western teams get their stuff sorted out.
Follow Ian on Twitter for more hockey updates and commentary.