Even with stumbles along the way in the regular season (for Boston) and injury troubles (for Pittsburgh), most people agreed that these would probably be the teams to meet in the Eastern Conference Final. Now, after no fewer than seven days off (thanks, schedule-makers!) the two teams will meet up and play for the Prince of Wales Trophy and a chance to win a second Stanley Cup in recent memory. This figures to be a very interesting series.
You know how the story goes for the Bruins. They were minutes away from being embarrassed in their own building by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. An absurd comeback, led by Patrice Bergeron, won that game in overtime. They had a much easier time in the second round, where they dispatched the New York Rangers in five games, all but one of which were close. They have had six days between games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had troubles of their own in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. They were seven minutes away from having to play a Game 7 against the eighth-seeded New York Islanders. Evgeni Malkin turned on the jets and started playing like Evgeni Malkin, and Brooks Orpik got an overtime winner to give Pittsburgh the clincher. Tomas Vokoun replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after four games of the first-round series, and the Penguins have not looked back. An overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators has been their only setback since switching goaltenders, as the Pens beat the Sens in five games. They have gone seven days between contests.
Game 1 is Saturday night in Pittsburgh. While the Western Conference Final pits the two best defensive teams in the playoffs against each other, the Eastern Conference Final does just the opposite. The Penguins (4.27) and Bruins (3.17) have the two highest goals per game averages in the post-season. The two clubs are ranked seventh and eighth in goals against per game. Things tend to tighten up in the playoffs however, so don't expect too many high-scoring games in this series.
Will Tomas Vokoun continue his incredible playoff run?
Tomas Vokoun's stats since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury are exemplary. 6-1 record, 1.85 goals against and a playoff-leading .941 save percentage. He will face a much stronger offense against Boston, who can get goals from a lot more players on a consistent basis than the Islanders or Senators. Will it matter? Or will Vokoun take the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final? (I mean, other players will also probably be responsible, but you get the picture.)
How much of an offensive series will this be?
As was pointed out earlier, these are the two best offensive teams left in the post-season. Can you have an exciting, offensive series in the conference finals without having it end up like the Flyers-Penguins series last year? The Devils and Rangers combined for 29 goals in six games during last year's Eastern Conference Final. People forget, however, that before their 1-0 win in Game 7, the Bruins 2011 East Final against the Lightning had combined for 41 goals in six games. What kind of series will we see with these two?
Can Boston beat Pittsburgh's superb special teams?
The Pittsburgh power play is currently running at an absurd (for the playoffs) 28.3 percent. That's close to a goal every three times they trot out the man advantage. They'll have guys like Crosby, Kunitz, Iginla, Malkin, Morrow, Martin and Letang out at various times. Can the Bruins stop that? For that matter, can they get their own power play going against a solid Pittsburgh penalty kill? The Pens are 89.7 percent on the kill. Only Chicago is better among teams remaining in the post-season. Torey Krug has given the Bruins power play a jolt, but will it be enough to keep things even on special teams?
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, CBC