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Time Out For Sports Talk: NHL Eastern Conference Finals Preview – Can The Bruins Slow Down The March Of The Penguins In This Black And Gold Showdown?

TOST Question of the Week: It’s finally about to begin—Bruins vs. Penguins!  Who do you like?

Todd: It has been a very long week for the Bruins and fans alike while waiting for the Western Conference Series to end.  But now we’ve got one of the best Stanley Cup semifinal rounds in league history featuring the last four Cup winners and what shapes up to be a classic Eastern Conference final.

In what has been a recurring theme for the Bruins during this year’s playoff run, you have to go back at least a generation to find the last time the B’s and Pens clashed in the postseason.  Although certainly not the four decades back that it was with the Maple Leafs or Rangers, Boston and Pittsburgh haven’t met this late in the spring since the 1991 and 1992 ECF.  During those two postseasons,  the Penguins (who had a teenage winger named Jaromir Jagr) won eight straight games against the Bruins and went on to win two of their three Stanley Cups.  But as sure as my name is Todd, I predict that no brooms will be necessary in this matchup.

The Bruins impressively disposed of the Rangers in five relatively uncompetitive games (happy job hunting, John Tortorella), thanks to great play from goalie Tuukka Rask (1.86 GAA vs. NYR, save for one bad slip on his butt), the blue line depth of youngsters Torey Krug (4 career NHL goals, all in these playoffs) and Matt Bartkowski (1 career NHL goal, also scored this postseason) and an improved power play (4-for-12) from the first round.

Those strengths will need to continue for the B’s facing a Pittsburgh club that has scored fewer than four goals just three times in their eleven playoff games.  Besides usual goal-scoring suspects Sidney Crosby (7G, 8A in the playoffs) and Evgeni Malkin (4G, 8A), the Penguins have also been getting postseason production from the likes of Pascal Dupuis (7G, 3A) and James Neal (6G, 4A).  The Pens’ ability to score gets even stronger when on the power play (13-for-46, 28%), so another key in the series will be for the Bruins avoid trips to the sin bin at all costs.

One interesting aspect of this matchup is the what-could-have-been appearance of Jarome Iginla.  With a trade to Boston all but finalized, the long-time Calgary Flame instead opted at the last minute for an opportunity to play with Crosby and company.  Iginla has performed well (4G, 8 A, 12 pts) for the Pens this postseason, as have other late-season acquisitions Brenden Morrow, Doug Murray and Jussi Jokinen, who seems to be a thorn in the B’s side no matter what jersey he’s wearing.

Where the Bruins could have a distinct advantage is in net.  While Tuukka has been steady between the pipes, the Penguins benched the erratic Marc-Andre Fleury in the first round against the Islanders and replaced him with 36-year old Tomas Vokoun.  Although the veteran Vokoun has put up impressive numbers since taking over (6-1 record, 1.85 GAA), he actually has less playoff experience than his younger counterpart Rask and is prone to giving up an errant rebound or two.

While the Bruins are capable of winning this series, they’ll have to play nearly flawless hockey to pull it off.  With home ice and a deeply talented offense, I’m taking the Penguins in seven games in what should be a memorable series.

Mike: What??? It’s FINALLY starting???

It seems like it’s been at least a month since the Bruins last played a game, but it’s finally time to lace them back up, for what will be the toughest matchup of the playoffs.

Thankfully, the Greatest Penguin of All Time will not be in the building for the series. No, not Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby, I’m talking about the late Burgess Meredith (Google it if you’re too young to get the reference…).

Strutting crime bosses aside, the Bruins will have their work cut out for them as they are facing a red-hot offense that can turn a close game into a blowout in just a blink of an eye.

I think this is going to come down to defense and goaltending for the Bs. Rask will need to keep the Penguins off the scoreboard, and the young kids on the blue line (I’m looking at you Torey Krug) are going to have to keep up their strong play.

Like you Todd, I don’t think a sweep is coming here, but I have a feeling about this team. I’ll say Bruins in seven!

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