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It is finally here. The matchup that Bruins fans, and NHL fans all over the country were hoping for when the season started. Coming into this shortened season, many people predicted the Penguins and the Bruins being the two best teams in the East, and a possible matchup to go to the Stanley Cup. After an up-and-down season for the Bruins, near elimination in the first round, the Bruins found their stride and eliminated the Rangers fairly easily in five games to set themselves up for a matchup with many storylines, besides the number one seed facing the number four seed.
Coming into the season, everyone knew about the Penguins star power with arguably the two best players in the world, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They also have James Neal, who is a 40-goal scorer, and one of the best offensive defensemen in the league in Kris Letang. After a slower start, the Penguins got hot at the right time and with an undefeated March, finished first in the Eastern Conference with 72 points, and was one of only two teams to finish with more than 70 points in the shortened season. The Penguins added even more star power at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray, Jussi Jokinen, and the controversial addition of Jarome Iginla. Iginla who had a no trade clause, was all but dealt to the Bruins at the trade deadline. The announcement had been made and Bruins fans were celebrating adding a future NHL Hall of Famer. But Iginla, at the last minute, changed his mind and decided he wanted to go play for the Penguins. If Bruins fans did not have enough reasons to dislike the Penguins this gave them another one. The Bruins, though disappointed, moved on with their lives and ended up trading for 41-year-old and former Penguin great Jaromir Jagr.
With all the Iginla controversy, and the trade for Jagr, who won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins, this made for a nice storyline entering these Eastern Conference Finals. Iginla has been a big part of the Penguins lineup and has helped fill in when Crosby was down with a broken jaw. He also has 12 points in the playoffs so far and has been a big part of the Penguins first line. Jagr, on the other hand, has been up and down. He played well in the remainder of the regular season, but has been unlucky in these playoffs so far. He is still looking for his first goal of the playoffs, and has been unlucky with many opportunities to score, just none of them going his way. Jagr, though goalless, has still made an impact on the Bruins second line as well as on the power play. The Bruins and Jaromir Jagr would love for him to find his scoring touch in a huge series against the team that will end up retiring his number someday.
There is going to be a close eye on defense and goaltending in this series. The Bruins, who are a more defensive team than the Penguins, are going to need to play smart in their own end and will need Tuukka Rask to outplay Tomas Vokoun, which really is not asking much. Vokoun took over for the terrible Marc-Andre Fleury in the first series against the Islanders. Vokoun, who has been solid since then, posting an 6-1 record with a 1.85 goals against average, is 36 years old is going to face a tougher test than the Islanders or Senators in this series and will need to step up to help the Penguins defense. The Penguins are an offensively gifted team and their defense can also put up points, but they will take some chances offensively that leaves them vulnerable on the back end. The Bruins will have to take advantage of this if they want to be able to keep up with the Penguins. The Bruins defense will also have to step up and try to slow down Crosby and the Penguins. Players like Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowskim, who have helped the team offensively, will have to be smart in their defensive end and limit turnovers. The Penguins do not need help scoring goals, so limiting turnovers, which have been a little bit of problem for the Bruins, will be key.
With much of the focus being on Jagr and Iginla, there are two other players that should be closely watched. James Neal and Milan Lucic have a history going back a couple years now. Lucic does not like Neal, who is a big player who can play physical at times, but is a more gifted goal scorer. Neal is notorious for being a little chippy and trying to get under the skin of opposing players. Milan Lucic is notorious for putting a stop to players like that. Lucic has challenged Neal in the past, but Neal always runs away and chooses to fight a smaller guy on the Bruins, like Andrew Ference. This is common with the Penguins, who have been labeled as a “physical” team. While they are not the Montreal Canadiens, they are not as physical as a team like the Bruins, and have a habit of crying to officials about teams that play in their face. It will be interesting to see how the officials, who were pretty sub par in the Rangers series, will handle the style of play in these games.
With many storylines in this series, this will be a true test to the Bruins depth. The Penguins are a very deep team with all their additions at the deadline and are clearly going all in for the Cup this year. The Bruins third line especially is going to need to step up so that they can run all four lines. This will be key if the Bruins hope to have a chance in this series, which they do. If the Bruins can keep the Penguins offense under control, and take advantage of their scoring opportunities, the Bruins will be able to knock off the top seeded Penguins. But if the Penguins are allowed to skate around and are not afraid of getting hit, they will score at will and the Bruins will see their season come to an end.