WILMINGTON –- It’s a pretty easy assignment for Claude Julien to start ticking off the reasons that the Pittsburgh Penguins will provide a different challenge from either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New York Rangers.
The high talent doesn’t get any higher, of course, than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Jarome Iginla and just everybody on the top two forward lines for Pittsburgh. But the Leafs had some elite scoring talent in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, and Rick Nash has been one of the most feared NHL power forwards for the last decade.
But it’s the depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins that has the Bruins coaching staff concerned headed into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals opener against the Penguins.
“The one thing I would say about Pittsburgh is the skill level, it’s so deep. We know that the Rangers didn’t score that easily,” said Julien. “We shutdown a few players and it took a lot of their scoring away. With Pittsburgh, you’ve got to shutdown more than a few players…I’m going to say even more than three and four.”
Former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and longtime Bruins killer Jussi Jokinen appear to be in line for fourth line duty, and now-reformed NHL villain Matt Cooke leads a third line that’s been a big factor for the Penguins.
That means both Boston’s Merlot Line and a third line that’s struggled through the regular season and playoffs will need to come through. They've done it in the past, but this might be the ultimate challenge against an ultra-talented Penguins club that's had game-winning goals from six different forwards during the playoffs.
“I think it’s about a lot of depth. We said that. When you look at how they finished, they’ve got a guy by the name of [Brendan] Morrow on their fourth line, [Jussi] Jokinen. There’s definitely some depth there,” said Julien. “We feel we’ve got the same thing.
“It’s going to be a lot of head-to-head here and see who’s going to outplay the other team’s line and so on, so forth. I think that’s what you’re looking at, a really good matchup here, which to me should be a really entertaining series.”
It will be depth vs. depth in a strength that both Boston and Pittsburgh boast throughout the regular season, and most other playoff matchups aside from the one that determines entry to the Stanley Cup Finals.