After a historic comeback in the first round nobody knew what the Bruins would bring to the second round. After all, they had underachieved and nearly got upset in the first round. The Rangers provided some unknowns and difficulties to the series, primarily their ability to block shots and the stellar history Henrik Lundqvist has against the Bruins. However, the Rangers offense struggled to get the wheels turning, scoring just 10 goals in the five game series. The Penguins are pretty much the opposite of the Rangers, relying on their offensive prowess to cover the holes on the back end. The Penguins finished first in the league in goals scored, averaging 3.35 per game, and are averaging 4.00 goals per game in the playoffs, no other team averages 3.00. The Bruins are closest, averaging 2.99 goals per game in the playoffs, up from the 2.61 they averaged in the regular season. Some major storylines in the series are Tomas Vokoun and the Penguins fragile goaltending tandem, the Bruins seeing Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby together for the first time, and the Bruins young defense and how they’ll be able to combat the prolific Pittsburgh offensive assault.
It’s no surprise that the Penguins led the league in goals, even though they missed Sidney Crosby for 1/4th of the season. They have five players with more than 30 points in the 48-game regular season, two of which had more than 50 points. The Penguins used to be scary because of Crosby and Malkin alone, but now they have three lines who are all legitimate scoring threats. To summarize the Penguins offense, the best player in the world isn’t even on the Penguins best line, that’s how deep and dangerous they are. They Penguins went all out, acquiring Brendan Morrow and Jarome Iginla at the deadline, to the point where you’d think their Stanley Cup window is closing instead of still rising. 20 of the Penguins 47 goals have come from their top three scorers where the Bruins offensive production comes from all angles, with a significant portion coming from defensemen. It’s pretty evident that the Penguins hold a major edge in the forward department.
One of the aspects of the series that is fairly unknown is how Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug will respond to the Penguins offense if called upon. Dennis Seidenberg is back and action and it appears that he and Zdeno Chara will not be split up and will focus on the Malkin line. This means that the Bruins middle pairing will have to deal with Crosby. To stay in the series the Bruins defense will also need to keep contributing on the score sheet, which is something that’s bound to come back down to Earth. For the Penguins, Norris Trophy nominee Kris Letang provides the largest headache because of his ability to jump into the rush and create trouble on the power-play. As for defensive-defensemen Brooks Orpik and Douglas Murray are solid defensemen who are strong along the boards, and expected to match up against the Bruins bigger forwards. The Pittsburgh defense had troubles in the first round against a fast Islanders team and will need to be better against a more consistent Bruins offense. Slight advantage to the Bruins.
Tomas Vokoun has filled in admirably for Marc-Andre Fleury, who was once again terrible in the first round but since Vokoun has taken over he’s rarely been tested. Ottawa’s offense pittered out as they were overwhelmed in the second round. The aging goaltender does give up a lot of rebounds, which he got away with against the small Senators. If the Bruins go to the net and jump on those rebounds they could expose Vokoun. Tuukka Rask has been great in these playoffs, silently leading the Bruins from the back end with stout play matched with big, clutch saves. He will need to be even better against the Penguins and will have to steal some games if the Bruins wish to win the series.
The Bruins power-play hasn’t been as terrible as it was in the regular season, mostly due to contributions from the blue line, but the Penguins power-play is reaching almost videogame levels of effectiveness. They are 28% in the playoffs thus far with two units who are downright scary. The Penguins will score on the power-play if you give them enough penalties in a given game. Even if they don’t score their two-minute bombardment is a major momentum shifter. The Bruins do have an above average penalty-kill but their best bet is to stay out of the box entirely. The less penalties called in this series the better. To do so, the Bruins need to bring their best skating legs and refrain from taking dumb or lazy penalties because the Penguins hold a major edge here as their power-play is their most dangerous weapon.
I tried rationalizing ways for the Bruins to win this series and every time I did I came up with three ways the Penguins could overcome that. The Penguins are a next level hockey team and as long as their key players stay healthy they should be this decades next dynasty. The Bruins best chance will be if they bring the physical game and stay disciplined. They need to play as much 5-on-5 hockey as possible and win along the boards. If they can get to Vokoun early in the series and make him doubt himself and bring on a goaltender controversy the Bruins have a shot of winning but if they play less than perfect hockey the Bruins will bow out at the hands of the Penguins. They need to play better than they did against the Canucks in 2011 to beat these Penguins, which is a very tall order.
Penguins in 6.