The Penguins (36-12-0) are rested and ready for the challenge that awaits them in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs—the Boston Bruins. For the Penguins faithful, it’s a time to relish in the joys of postseason dominance as the road to hoisting hockey’s holy grail—the Stanley Cup—becomes shorter. For the Penguins, focus abruptly sharpens and skill, determination, and passion take center stage. As Mike Lange famously says: “Buckle up, baby!”
This edition of Pens Playoff Playbook looks ahead to Game 1 and assesses the strengths of this Eastern Conference heavyweight.
With his grit and superb skating ability, Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby has lead the charge for his club in the postseason. Crosby has registered 6 points (4G, 2A) in his last five games played and averages 21:66 of ice time. True to form, the Nova Scotia native has commanded the faceoff circle, winning over 50% of draws taken in the series against the Ottawa Senators. Crosby has received the green light from medical staff to practice without a jaw protector, which in turn will make it easier for Crosby to see the puck when taking draws. It remains to be seen if the star forward will play this series without the added protection.
James Neal has once again validated his reputation as the club’s sniper. In an electrifying performance against Ottawa, Neal ignited the Penguins’ offense with many highlight-reel worthy goal. Notching 6 goals and 4 assists, Neal, along with forward Pascal Dupuis, leads the club’s offense. A native of Whitby, Neal is dangerous through the neutral zone, where he connects with linemate Evgeni Malkin.
Kris Letang is a key part of the Penguins’ blue line and Dan Bylsma’s top power play unit. Letang (1-6-7) shone in the series against Ottawa, intercepting stretch passes, working hard along the half boards, and clearing loose pucks away from Penguins’ netminder Tomas Vokoun. The major talking point in this series will be the Letang vs. Chara comparison. Letang is a fixture on the Penguins’ roster as a two-way defensemen—posting 16 points in 11 playoff games played, averages 17 minutes per game, and is rated an impressive plus-7.
Powerplay: Throughout the entire postseason. the Penguins’ powerplay has proven wildly effective. On the man advantage, the Penguins are able to maintain pressure in the offensive zone, make short passes, create scoring opportunities, win face-offs and maintain puck possession, and quickly capture rebounds around the net.
Goaltending: It is expected that vetern goaltender Tomas Vokoun will resume his duties between the pipes for the Penguins. With Vokoun’s experience, attention to detail, and aggressive style of play, the Penguins’ skaters will play with confidence. Since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury, Vokoun is 6-1, posting a .941 save percentage and 1.85 goals against average.
-At the team’s morning practices, Bylsma has made no line changes. He remains impressed with his team’s chemistry and energy. While there are no guarantees, it is expected the club will use the same lines from the Ottawa series.
-The last time that the Bruins and Penguins squared off in the post season was in 1992. The Penguins swept the Bruins, by and large due to the skill of former Penguin Jamoir Jagr. Jagr posted 3G and 5A in that series.
-Vokoun was 2-0-0 vs BOS this season with a .958 save percentage
Projected Penguins’ Forward Lines
Dupuis – Crosby – Kunitz
Iginla – Malkin – Neal
Cooke – Sutter – Kennedy
Morrow – Jokinen – Adams
Prediction: Penguins in 6