PITTSBURGH, PA - Finally. Gameday is upon us, and the puck is set to drop on the Eastern Conference Finals tonight at 8:20 p.m. In making their final preparations, both teams hit the ice at the CONSOL Energy Center this morning for their respective pregame skates.
All of the Bruins took to the ice, and there were no lineup changes up front during line rushes.
On the back end, Coach Julien has said that he's not going to "tip his hand" in regards to pairings. Obviously, he has plenty of options to work with, especially if Andrew Ference is fully cleared and available for game action.
During morning skate, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were mostly paired together, along with what looks like a lock in Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid remaining a pair.
There has been much talk about whether Coach will break up the Chara-Seidenberg pairing to go up against both Sidney Crosby on Pittsburgh's top line, and Evgeni Malkin on the second. Granted, game situations often see the Bruins' pairings not stay put for the entire game, but according to the pregame skate, it appears that duo will stay intact, at least to start.
To begin the skate, the other defensemen (besides the aforementioned two pairings) rotated amongst each other. As it progressed, Johnny Boychuk and Matt Bartkowski (or, 'Boykowski' as they have been labeled) stayed as a pair. As always, the best lineup indication will be in pregame warm-ups tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Afterwards, Julien was asked by a reporter about making a decision regarding Ference and the blueline.
"That's a thing I'll have to do when the time comes," he said.
Ference has been skating well in practice, and Coach just recently said on Friday afternoon that he's "getting better every day."
"Right now, we’re just, we’re going to wait. I’m haven’t talked to our trainers or doctors, but when they tell me that they feel comfortable that he can go, no doubt we’ll be excited to have him back with us."
The defenseman's veteran presence is definitely an asset against the high-powered offense Pittsburgh possesses. But it's also hard not to look at the job the "rookies" Bartkowski and Krug have done. The Bruins have options to move around their blueline, and Coach Julien is well aware.
"I think it’s one of those situations where you have players that bring different things to the table, and we have that," Julien said Friday. "We’ve seen it in all the series, but at the same time, what you try and do is put the best group together that you think is going to help you win the game and then hopefully win the series."
As such, Julien still wasn't "tipping his hand" Saturday morning. But, as he's said many times before, having to make lineup decisions is never a bad spot to be in.
Though the final decisions are sometimes made on the game day, they are something he and the coaching staff mull over all, as they have the past week.
"You think about it all week and you talk about it. Eventually you make a decision, but just because you make a decision doesn't mean you stick with it. I think it's one of those things that you have a decision, but you also have Plan B if you need to adapt," said Julien, on their decision-making process.
"You've just got to be ready. That's the advantage that we both have as teams here, we've had a whole week to think those things through. Sometimes, you go from one series into the next and you don't have that much time and then you've got to prepare on the fly and make those decision quickly."
"But we've had a chance to ponder those kind of things and look at it and say, 'If that doesn't work, we an also do this and that.' We're ready as much as they are. Again, match-ups is one thing. I said that this morning, I'm not going to get 100 percent set in my match-ups and neither is he. That's the thing that you have to accept and that's when you rely on the team and your players to do the job on whoever they're out there against."Boston's projected lineup:
While Julien wasn't tipping his hand, Penguins' Head Coach Dan Bylsma was tipping his hat to the B's bench boss and his staff, especially in regards to match-ups.
"I have a lot of respect for the way their team is coached - they're very well-coached, systematically-wise, they're responsible. Not just defensively - throughout their game. And we've seen that for a long period of time from their team, not just right now."
"There are certainly match-ups in this game; how they're going to match up Chara against our guys. And there's a centerman match-up in this game that we'll see play out. More for their team and the way they're coached, it's really more about the defense that's usually the best match-ups they try to get in a game. They work very hard at, they're very good at it, probably the best in the league at getting that defensive match-up, getting that change, getting the guys they want to."
RaskPittsburgh projected lineup: