BOSTON – The beginning date for the Eastern Conference Finals hasn’t even been decided yet, but the Bruins are already bracing for the biggest challenge of their season in facing the Pittsburgh Penguins.
How often in this day and age do the two best teams actually play each other in the conference finals? But that’s exactly what will happen after both the Bruins and Penguins dispatched their second round opponents in a tidy five games, and will sit awaiting each other while the Western Conference sorts out their playoff rounds. The Bruins won’t know when things will get started with Pittsburgh until everything has been decided between the Blackhawks/Red Wings and Kings/Sharks, but they’re still excited about the matchup.
The Bruins went 0-3-0 in three games against Pittsburgh this season, and two of those three were before the Penguins loaded up with Jarome Iginla Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray – as well as Bruins killer Jussi Jokinen off waivers – at the NHL trade deadline. Milan Lucic went so far as to call them “the Miami Heat of the NHL” after dusting off the New York Rangers in Game 5, and it’s clear the B’s will embrace the underdog role despite their Cup from just two years ago.
“No doubt they’re a great hockey club. In my mind they’re almost like the Miami Heat of the NHL with all the star power they have. Probably the two best players in the world and a 40-goal scorer and the former 50-goal scorer, a future hall of famer and a Norris Trophy candidate on their team,” said Lucic. “They definitely have a lot of weapons and in saying all that, I think what makes them successful is they play real well as a team.
“I think that’s what you’re going to probably see going into this next series, is two well-rounded teams going at it. For us, we’ve got to be ready and excited for the challenge.”
Mentioning all of the newly acquired players, however, would be shortchanging a Penguins team that's got the probable Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy winners in Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, and last year's NHL MVP in Evgeni Malkin. Add in James Neal for good measure, and Pittsburgh is a team that's deep, dangerous and enjoying some pretty good health on their roster entering the Eastern Conference Finals.
There’s also clearly no love lost between Matt Cooke and anybody in a Bruins uniform after he essentially ended Marc Savard’s career three years ago, and a bubbling feud between Iginla and the Bruins fan base he spurned at the NHL trade deadline by invoking his no trade clause rights.
That should make for some pretty interesting storylines once things get going between Boston and Pittsburgh.