Bruins meet Penguins for 1st time since sweep

Bruins meet Penguins for 1st time since sweep
October 30, 2013, 7:15 pm
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(AP Photo)

The Pittsburgh Penguins will never get enough in a revenge measure to make up for the humbling sweep at the hands of the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, but nobody would blame them for trying. Certainly things will be high intensity both teams attempting to pull out of a losing spin – it’s been three losses in their past four games for the Penguins, and the Bruins dropped their last game against the New Jersey Devils in disappointing fashion last weekend – while also making a statement about their own superiority in this year’s Eastern Conference.

That should make it great hockey theatre for “Rivalry Night” on NBCSN at 8 p.m. while most eyes will be watching Game 6 of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Cardinals.

Memories of Zdeno Chara menacing Sidney Crosby during a scrum in the middle of the ice, and the Bruins completely shutting down Pittsburgh’s offensive guns are still fresh from the last four postseason games the two teams played against each other. One doesn’t have to go all the way back to the days of Cam Neely and Ulf Samuelsson to spark a little healthy hatred between the two organizations.

It’s certainly fresh on the minds of the Penguins, who have been answering questions for a couple of days leading up to tonight’s game at the CONSOL Energy Center.

“We’ve had some tight ones with the [Bruins] in the history of the playoffs…and everything else,” said Crosby, who is leading the NHL with 20 points in 12 games this season. “The games over the last couple of years have been pretty close and exciting, so they’ve stood out a little more.

“With the intensity of some of the games we’ve played against them, I think [calling it a rivalry with the Bruins] is fair. It’s probably not the first one that comes to mind when you think of rivals…Philadelphia and Washington. But it’s natural when you play a team in the playoffs that it builds like that.”

Another layer of interest is Boston’s perfect 4-0-0 record on the road smashing head-to-head with the Penguins’ 5-2 record in their home barn, so something clearly will need to give when the two Eastern Conference powers take the ice against each other.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “We both want to be the top teams in the Eastern Conference. There will be other teams too, but this is a good challenge. Whenever you fall to another team in the playoffs, it adds a little more fuel to the fire. It adds to the reasons why you don’t like another team, and I’m sure that kind of rivalry will be there.” –Jarome Iginla, on returning to the Pittsburgh spot he called home for the second half of last season.

KEY MATCHUP: In this matchup it seems to always come down to Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby lining up against each other, and Zdeno Chara getting called out for duty against Evgeni Malkin. Last spring the Bruins won both of those matchups handily, even though the Bergeron line got plenty of time against both of Pittsburgh’s two marquee names. It will come down to Boston’s two best defensive players, who haven’t been great to start this season, rising to the occasion against a Penguins outfit that is certainly going to be focused against the team that eliminated them last spring. Malkin and Crosby should have something to prove in this one.

STAT TO WATCH: 7 – the number of games that David Krejci has consecutively scored at least one point for the Bruins as he’s totaled 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) during that time span.  

INJURIES: Marc Savard (post-concussion syndrome) is on the long term injured reserve, and is again expected to miss the entire season. Loui Eriksson has been out since Oct. 23 with a concussion stemming a John Scott head shot, and isn’t expected to resume hockey activities for at least a week.

Tomas Vokoun (blood clots) is out indefinitely for the Penguins along with veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi (broken ankle), who went down earlier this week. Former Bruins forward Chuck Kobasew (lower body) is out 3-4 weeks. Forwards James Neal (upper body) and Beau Bennett (lower body) are on injured reserve.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tuukka Rask has allowed one goal or fewer in six of the nine games he’s played while ranking third among NHL goaltenders with a .947 save percentage and 1.57 goals against average. Rask was called the “MVP of the team thus far this season” by winger Milan Lucic after he stood on his head in a win against the San Jose Sharks last week, and it’s hard to argue the point. He’ll get the start for the Bruins with backup Chad Johnson potentially readying for Thursday night’s matchup with the Anaheim Ducks.

The last time Bruins fans saw Marc-Andre Fleury, he was relegated to mop up duty in the playoffs after he’d lost his starting job to Tomas Vokoun. With Vokoun’s career possibly over after succumbing to more blood clot problems, it’s all been left back to the Flower in the Cage. He’s actually been very good for the Penguins with an 8-2-0 record along with .928 save percentage and a 1.79 goals against average. A game against a well-rested Bruins team should be a very good test as to where Andre-Fleury’s head is at this season, however.