NHL 2013 PLAYOFFS: CONFERENCE FINALS – PITTSBURGH vs BOSTON

PLAYOFFS LOGO

PLAYOFFS 2013 PIT V BOS ROUND 3 CORRECTED

SERIES BEGINS: SATURDAY 1st JUNE 2013

PUCK DROP: 8PM EST (1AM GMT)

Check out the full series schedule here.

Kris Letang celebrates yet another Penguins goal. Image courtesy of bostonglobe.com.

HOW WILL IT GO DOWN? Well, here we are.  A showdown between the two Eastern Conference superpowers, and two of the last 4 Stanley Cup Champions.  They play vastly different styles — the Penguins more offensively orientated whilst the Bruins favour a heavy, defensive-conscience game — and as such it will be intriguing to see who emerges victorious.

Both blasted through their second round opponents in 5 games, and yet were both stretched in their first round series against surprisingly competitive teams, leading both teams to controversies.  For the Penguins, what happened to Marc-Andre Fleury (I would postulate that Marc-Andre Fleury happened to Marc-Andre Fleury) and would Tomas Vokoun be able to shore up the position?  And for Boston, how did such a strong, deep team allow a team like Toronto get the jump on them, basically up until the last 3 minutes of Game 7?

In Round 2 those questions were answered.  Vokoun held up wonderfully for Pittsburgh against Ottawa, and whilst not the hottest goalie in the playoffs is playing well enough to allow the team’s offence to shine.  He now holds a sparkling 0.941 SV% and 1.85 GAA, along with 6 victories in 7 games played.

In Boston, meanwhile, the team got back on track against the New York Rangers, and despite their defensive style they actually now lead the NHL playoffs in shots on net per game, as well as maintaining the lowest shots allowed per game.  They will have to continue to exploit that advantage over Pittsburgh, who are almost even in terms of shot differential.

The Bruins will also have to be careful not to get into a special teams battle with Pittsburgh, who own an incredible 28.3% success rate with the man-advantage so far, and also have an 89.7% success rate killing penalties, both far exceeding the Bruins own totals of 21.9% and 81.1% respectively.  Boston has been disciplined so far, taking just 114 minutes in penalties compared to Pittsburgh’s 166, despite having thrown 155 more hits.

On an individual level, for Boston David Krejci is red hot, with 5 goals and 17 points in just 12 games to lead all skaters in this years playoffs so far.  Saying that, he hasn’t scored a goal since his hat-trick against Toronto in Game 4 of the first round, so whilst he’s still racking up points, he’s been unable to find twine himself.  Shutting him down will be key for Pittsburgh, but Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic are also putting up good numbers, not to mention top defenceman Zdeno Chara.  Tuukka Rask has been solid, though not great, putting up a 0.928 SV% and 2.22 GAA in 12 games.

David Krejci fights off a Ranger. Image courtesy of cbslocal.com.

Torey Krug was a revelation for the team in the second round, with the 22 year old undrafted defenceman who only joined pro hockey this year putting up an astounding 4 goals and 5 points in just 5 games; it will be interesting to see if that continues, with Chara and Boychuk the only other d-men offering much offence.  Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin have been worryingly quiet for the team so far, each with only 4 points to show for their efforts – they have to be better if this team wants to advance.

For the Penguins, their offensive stars took off against Ottawa.  Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang lead the team in scoring with 16 points apiece in 11 games, and Letang is – as was predicted here – proving to quite possibly be the MVP of this team so far, co-leading the team at +7 with Paul Martin.  Sidney Crosby isn’t far behind with 15 points, and Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin and James Neal are all playing at or near the point per game mark.

This could be a very chippy series, with both teams fostering a rivalry for sometime now.  The Bruins are particularly incensed by Matt Cooke (who isn’t?) following his hit which all but ended Marc Savard’s career a couple of years ago, whilst Jagr will likely also be jacked up to play his former team — he scored 7 points against them in last year’s furious opening playoff round with Philadelphia — and not mention the team will be out for blood since losing the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes in somewhat embarrassing fashion.

PREDICTION: This really could go either way, it all depends on who’s system holds up.  Does the Penguins’ offence overpower the Bruins, or can Boston stifle Pittsburgh’s stars?  Either way this should be an extremely exciting series to watch, and I can see this being an absolute classic playoff battle.  I have a feeling that Pittsburgh will be driven to the edge by Boston, but will scrape by in a 7 game thriller.

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