BOSTON -– It’s only fitting that the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will clash for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals after they butted heads for Jarome Iginla at the NHL trade deadline.
The Bruins famously lost the Iginla sweepstakes to Penguins GM Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh organization when the former Calgary Flames power forward opted to waive his no trade clause for the Penguins, rather than the Bruins. In essence, he jilted a highly successful Black and Gold franchise for a Black and Yellow one featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a truckload of artery-clogging Primanti Brothers’ hoagies.
Iginla managed to skate by without much fanfare or notice when the Penguins made their April trip to Boston, which coincided with the citywide manhunt for the Marathon Monday bombers. But the winger will hear it when he takes the TD Garden ice this time around.
It’s just one of a number of intriguing, exciting storylines between the Bruins and Penguins heading into a series that’s expected to be filled with competitiveness, bad blood, and playoff moments that people will remember for an awfully long time.
- The Sidney Crosby versus Patrice Bergeron matchup should be worth the price of admission. The two friends were teammates at the World Junior and Olympic level, and they are the embodiment of superstar NHL players that do everything correctly. One is widely considered the best offensive center in the NHL, and the other is considered the best defensive center in the NHL. The two of them locking horns will be nirvana for hockey purists.
- The first chance for blood to boil and hatred to spill over for Matt Cooke after he effectively ended Marc Savard’s career three years ago with a blindside elbow to the head. Shawn Thornton addressed things with Cooke in their first meeting following the Savard incident, but this will be the first time Boston can truly get nasty with Pittsburgh’s hatchet man over an extended series of games. Picture the kind of abuse the Bruins put Derek Dorsett through in the New York Rangers series, and multiply it by about 100 for the likes of Cooke.
- Zdeno Chara versus Evgeni Malkin has always been the matchup of choice for Bruins coach Claude Julien over the last few years when both players have been healthy, and that’s likely to be the case again in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The book on Malkin has always been to discourage him physically and make him pay a heavy toll for anything he does offensively, and that kind of rough treatment is right up Chara’s alley heading into the series. The expectation is the Bruins coaching staff will keep Chara and Dennis Seidenberg intact, and they’ll get a heavy dose of Malkin coverage.
- Jaromir Jagr returning to face the Pittsburgh Penguins team he helped win a pair of Stanley Cup titles during his time with Mario Lemieux and some ridiculously talented Penguins teams.
It seems poetic that the Bruins will have to bust through the Penguins juggernaut that is averaging 4.27 goals per game during the playoffs, and is buoyed by a pair of players in Iginla and Brenden Morrow whom Shero got at the trade deadline, beating Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli to the punch.
Chiarelli looked at this upcoming matchup with the Penguins as inevitable if the Bruins were to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. Chiarelli is also happy with what the Bruins ended up receiving at the trade deadline in Jagr, a future Hall of Famer who has helped the Bruins’ power play click at a 21.9 percent success rate (7-for-32 in 12 games) during the playoffs.
“I always thought you had to go through them to get to where we want to go at some point. It’s been well-chronicled, the Iginla stuff and the Jagr stuff, so we’re happy with who we got,” said Chiarelli. “I think Jags makes that switch that [Bruins Head Coach] Claude [Julien] made, Jags is really compatible with Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] line on the strong cycle and the wearing down of the opposition.”
The Bruins had better be happy with the 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who will now cost the Bruins their 2013 first-round pick since they've advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The mercurial, unique right winger is fourth on the Bruins with his 36 shots on net, but has managed just four assists in 12 playoff games along with a minus-2 while averaging 17:17 of ice time. He’s certainly created his share of scoring chances for himself and linemates Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but he hasn’t found the finishing touch through two rounds of the playoffs.
“I know he’s been snake-bitten a little bit, but he’s had a lot of chances; he’s created a lot of chances. But in addition to the looks he gives the PP, he wears down D and there’s always two guys on him,” said Chiarelli. “I think we would’ve been fine with either [Iginla or Jagr], but we’re very happy with Jags. And the price to pay, a first-round pick, you’ve got to pay to get a quality player.
“We’ve shown that we’ve been able to replace those types of players – Torey [Krug] wasn’t even drafted – through trade, through draft, through free agents. There are different ways to skin the cat.”
Even better for the Bruins is that they were able to hang onto Matt Bartkowski, a key figure in the package of players and prospects headed to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Iginla. The 24-year-old Bartkowski blossomed during the regular season after the deal fell through with Calgary, and is averaging19:47 of ice time in seven games during the Stanley Cup playoffs after stepping in for massive Boston injuries along the blue line.
Bartkowski’s fast skating legs and solid three-zone play are two of the reasons Boston was able to not just survive, but thrive, against the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs.
“If you’re asking me am I happy because I kept [Bartkowski] instead of getting [Jarome] Iginla, yes. Now, yes. He’s helped us. You’ve seen him emerge. But it also shows you that we’re willing to give up good players to try and help the team win now,” said Chiarelli. “We’ve got a lot of good players now. We didn’t want to give up Bart, but that was the case at the time.
“The depth that you talk about that’s helping us now, we had it further on down the line in the organization. That helps us deal for players now, but I’m glad to have [Bartkowski] right now.”
Meanwhile, Iginla is a point-per-game player with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 11 playoff games, and is one of six Penguins players already with a double-digit scoring total during the postseason.
He’s just one cog in the Pittsburgh machine during the playoffs, but he and Jagr will take lead roles in the week leading up to this weekend’s Eastern Conference Finals -- as it should be for future Hall of Famers whose fates have been intertwined this season.