The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have been two of the best teams in the NHL for the last few years, but we haven't seen them meet in the postseason since 1992. These are two great teams that don't really know each other, and it's going to make for some great hockey.
I love this matchup for the fact that they're completely different. The only thing they have in common is that they both wear black jerseys.
Boston is a team that's built on defense. The Bruins have the best defensive defenseman in the world in Zdeno Chara. He'll be playing against the best offensive forward in the world in Sidney Crosby. A top-notch penalty killing teams in Boston will be facing the best power play unit in the playoffs in Pittsburgh. One team's philosophy is built on puck control and defense, the other is the best quick-strike offense in the League. It's just a great matchup of opposites.
And holy cow, look at all the storylines. There's Iginla playing for the Penguins after not going to Boston at the deadline. There's Matt Bartkowski, a kid who was supposed to be traded for Iginla, playing big minutes for the Bruins. You've got a legendary Penguin in Jaromir Jagr now playing for Boston. There's a lot of stuff going on, and it's going to be a great series to cover.
I expect both of these teams will try to impose their will right from the start rather than playing a Game 1 that's tentative with two teams feeling each other out. The Penguins and Bruins are both strong teams, and they'll try to deal from those strengths early on. One of the big things I'll be watching is how that young defense of Boston responds to Pittsburgh. Bartkowski and Torey Krug haven't seen speed like they're going to see from the Penguins. The Pens can make a slow-footed defenseman look very ordinary. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid are good defensemen, but they're not fleet of foot. Bartkowski and Krug are talented, but they're also young. That's going to be a big test for the defensemen of the Boston Bruins.
But the Penguins will also be tested. They've never seen a team cycle the puck like the Boston Bruins. They've never seen a team grind it out like the Boston Bruins. We're going to be watching for which team handles it the best. Will the Bruins soft dump the puck into Kris Letang's corner and pound him in the boards? Will Crosby be able to get away from Chara?
I'm picking Pittsburgh to win this because of their talent level. I thought the Penguins started playing better against Ottawa and they're looking very strong right now, but Boston is a team that rolls four lines and if its defensemen continue to play as well as they have, it could cause Pittsburgh problems. I think both teams are on top of their game right now and they're relatively healthy. It's going to be closely-matched and it's going to be great hockey. The only thing that will surprise me is if it goes less than seven games.
SECOND COMING OF THE SECOND CITY
After watching Game 5 Saturday night, I think we've got a seven-game series.
I think Chicago learned a lot Saturday. The Chicago Blackhawks learned they've got to stay out of the penalty box, that they can't take stupid penalties and they've got to get the that power play working. They did all of that Saturday. It was also a great game by Jonathan Toews. Toews got going, he was in control of his emotions and he just played very well in general. I thought Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith played their best game of the series, which was very important, and obviously the third and fourth lines were dominant. Andrew Shaw, I thought, was the best player on the ice for the Blackhawks.
They've got to play like that again if they want to extend this. The matchups might be a little different because the Detroit Red Wings will get the last change at Joe Louis Arena -- it'll be easier for Mike Babcock to get Zetterberg on the ice against Toews -- but that can't bother Toews. If Zetterberg takes Toews out of the game, that's fine as long as Toews takes Zetterberg out of the game, too.
I do think Toews will have a great game, though. I think the monkey is off his back now and I'm not sure he'll score Monday night, but he'll look like Jonathan Toews, a guy that's in control, playing hard, playing smart and drawing penalties instead of taking them. I also think Chicago's third and fourth lines will need to continue playing well. If you remember that championship team in 2010, the Blackhawks got big goals from Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd. Their third and fourth lines have to get the puck in the net.
If the Blackhawks put that all together again it'll be tough to beat them, but the Red Wings will have Jimmy Howard waiting. In the first two games in Detroit, Howard was unbelievable. He was good in Game 5, too -- he just wasn't good enough. I think he'll have to have his best game, much like he did in Games 6 and 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. But goaltending is the great equalizer. If Howard comes out and plays like he did in Games 3 and 4, it'll be tough for the Blackhawks.
Still, I do think Chicago will force a Game 7. I don't know if the Blackhawks will win the series. It's hard to beat Detroit the way they're playing three times in a row, but the Wings also know how tough it'll be to play a Game 7 in that building in Chicago. I'm sure Mike Babcock is telling his guys to get that job done at the Joe.