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BRUINS at PENGUINS
(Game 1 of best-of-7 series)
TV: NBC, CBC, RDS
Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins swept three very close and hard-fought games from the Boston Bruins during the regular season. It started with a three-goal, third-period rally on March 12, with Brandon Sutter scoring twice in a 3-2 victory. Five days later, Tomas Vokoun stopped 31 shots in a 2-1 win. Those games were at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins also prevailed 3-2 at TD Garden on April 20, with Jussi Jokinen scoring a goal and adding two assists.
Big story: Both teams will be well-rested and eager to get back to the Stanley Cup chase after relatively easy five-game series wins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Penguins' offense erupted for 22 goals against the Ottawa Senators, including 13 over the final two games. The Bruins played a much lower-scoring series with the New York Rangers but raced out to a commanding 3-0 lead before eventually closing it out back on home ice.
Jarome Iginla, sent to the Penguins at the NHL Trade Deadline after he was initially rumored to be going to the Bruins, is fourth on Pittsburgh in playoff scoring with four goals and 12 points in 11 games.
Bruins: The momentum from an amazing Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round appeared to carry over for Boston, which took the series opener against the Rangers in overtime and stayed in complete control throughout the series.
The Bruins survived despite a banged-up defense that got Dennis Seidenberg back in Game 5 and could have fellow veteran Andrew Ference in the lineup again soon. Their absences allowed Torey Krug, who had played in three career NHL games prior to the second round, to step in and score four goals (three on the power play) in his first five postseason contests.
Boston also received balanced scoring from its forwards, and Tuukka Rask gave up two goals or fewer in the four victories.
"We've played against [Pittsburgh] enough and we have a lot of respect for that team, the way they're coached, and they have four really good lines and guys that contribute and they got scoring from every line and they're not too far removed from winning the Stanley Cup," said forward Gregory Campbell, who scored twice in the close-out game against the Rangers. "And they know how to win, so I think it will be a great matchup. We're excited about it, and we're going to have to be good."
Penguins: Like its opponent, Pittsburgh seemed to only get stronger after a first-round scare -- in their case from the New York Islanders. Locked in a 2-2 series against a No. 8 seed they were expected to handle easily, the Penguins needed a Game 6 overtime win to advance. They then proceeded to blitz the overmatched Senators, shoring up on the back end and in goal. Indeed, as the conference final begins, the Penguins appear to be clicking on all cylinders again.
Vokoun is 6-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .941 save percentage since getting the call for Game 5 of the Islanders series. Kris Letang leads NHL defensemen in scoring with 16 points, tying him with Evgeni Malkin for the team lead; Sidney Crosby has 15 points in 10 games since returning from a broken jaw; and James Neal scored five goals over the final two games against Ottawa.
"It's going to be fun, going to be a tough series," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "They're a very good team, a well-balanced team with a lot of depth, some good players. So it's going to be a good challenge for us.
"Since I've been here, our speed has done well against them and we've had a pretty good record against them in the regular season. But we all know in the playoffs that might not be the story. It can be a whole new ballgame and quite a challenge going against them."
Who's hot: The Bruins' fourth line of Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton combined for four goals and six assists in five games against the Rangers. Krug is the first rookie defenseman in the post-expansion era to score four goals in his first five playoff games. … Neal (5-2-7) and Letang (1-6-7) sparked the Penguins' offense in Games 4 and 5 against the Senators.
Injury report: Ference (lower body) and defenseman Wade Redden (upper body) missed the entirety of the second round for Boston. Ference has been practicing with the team and could be a Game 1 possibility.