Bruins, Penguins will be test of impressive depth

Bruins, Penguins will be test of impressive depth
May 27, 2013, 7:15 pm
Share This Post

BOSTON – The Bruins were able to utilize organizational depth and lineup strength to their big advantage in pushing past the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but that absolutely will not be the case against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Penguins boast all manner of star power on their first two forward lines anchored by centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and their third line features a guy (James Neal) that scored 40 goals last season, and fired off a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators in the Game 5 win that eliminated them in the second round. The Penguins have eight of the top 20 scorers in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and, amazingly, forwards Tyler Kennedy, Joe Vitale, Beau Bennett, Jussi Jokinen and Brenden Morrow have all been healthy scratches at some point during the first two rounds for Pittsburgh.

Even more impressive is the six different forwards that have game-winning goals for the Penguins during the playoffs, and none of them have been from the player they call Sid the Kid in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins have teamed to average to 4.27 goals per game during the first two rounds of the playoffs – a full goal better than the Boston Bruins, who are averaging more than three goals per game – and will field three forward lines that will be dangerous offensively.

“With Pitt, they’re a deep team,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “They have veterans like us that have been through the wars. They’ve got some high-end impact players, so they’ve got all kinds of depth. It will be a battle of deep teams.

“They mix and match with Malkin and Crosby, often they’re together and sometimes they’re not. It seems like their top two lines are in pairs, and then they switch the other guys. Their third line is a solid line, and the fourth line is a lot similar to ours. What we can provide is that we have a strong defending lineup, and I think we’ve had success on the road.”

The Bruins are likewise deep at forward and defensemen, and that was apparent in the series against the Rangers when the fourth line kicked in 10 points, and a series of three rookie defensemen (Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug) sparked the Bruins amid a slew of backline injuries.

So it’s safe to say that the Bruins are looking forward to the challenge with two top forward lines that many teams would consider their No. 1 line. David Krejci leads all playoff scorers with 17 points and centers a power forward tandem of Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic that’s been a constant threat throughout the postseason.

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand caught fire against the Rangers skating with Jaromir Jagr, but might be buoyed by a return of right wing Tyler Seguin after he put up three points in the final two playoff games against New York.

“You’d have to hope that our team responds the same way. We’ve got two lines that we feel are pretty good as well,” said Claude Julien. “Maybe we don’t have the names that the Penguins have when it comes to the [Sidney] Crosbys, the [Evgeni] Malkins, but we have guys that have done a great job in the past, that have worked well together, that have given us an opportunity to be a championship team.

“Depth is certainly going to be challenged with another team that has just as much. We talked about how useful it was in the first couple of rounds; well, it’s going to be a challenge here in this [series] against Pittsburgh.”

The one line that will surely need to step up for the Bruins: the much-maligned third line that has had a difficult season from beginning to end. Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley have combined for one point and a minus-10 rating in 23 postseason games this spring, and haven’t really meshed well with either Jaromir Jagr or Seguin. That will need to change against the Penguins, or Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma will have the Boston forward line that he’ll be able to pick on during the best-of-seven series.

No matter what happens depth isn’t going to be an extreme advantage for one hockey club or the other in a series that comes down to the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. At least it shouldn’t be an issue if both the Bruins and Penguins are operating at their highest level throughout the series.

Instead the series will come down to an explosive, offensive juggernaut against a strong, punishingly physical crew that should be playing with a snarl as the overwhelming underdogs, and it will be the exact Stanley Cup playoff match both cities have been waiting for over the last three years.