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Penguins meet Bruins in Eastern Conference Final

by John Kreiser

The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping history repeats itself.

The Penguins beat the Boston Bruins in the 1991 Wales Conference Final on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, then did it again the following year on the way to repeating as champions.

The teams haven't met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the Penguins completed a four-game sweep in 1992, but a trip to the Final will be on the line again when the Penguins and Bruins face off in the Eastern Conference Final.

Both teams were pushed in the opening round this year -- Pittsburgh survived a six-game test by the New York Islanders and Boston needed a miraculous Game 7 rally to beat Toronto is overtime. But both stormed through the conference semifinals in five games, with the Penguins scoring 22 times while polishing off the Ottawa Senators and the Bruins capping off their ouster of the New York Rangers with a 3-1 victory Saturday night.

“It’s going to be very tough," Boston forward Brad Marchand said after the Bruins eliminated the Rangers. "They’re playing incredible right now. We’ve obviously watched them against Ottawa and New York and there’s not many holes in their game, so we’re going to have to make sure we put our best game on the ice every night.”

A lot of the key players from Boston's 2011 Cup team are back. Captain Zdeno Chara anchors the defense, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Marchand have led the way offensively, and the fourth line of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell has been physical while generating offense as well.

That kind of depth up front is a must if the Bruins are to slow down the NHL's most prolific attack.

"They're a heck of a team," Campbell said of the Penguins. "They're four lines deep too, and they use everybody. We have a lot of respect for them, and we'll use everybody as well."

The biggest difference is in goal, where Tuukka Rask has stepped in for the departed Tim Thomas without missing a beat. Rask sat and watched in 2011 as Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP; this year, he's halfway to backstopping the Bruins to another Cup.

The Bruins have also gotten a lot of offensive production from their defense. Boston has 13 goals from its D through 12 games; the 2011 team had 10 goals in four rounds. Rookie Torey Krug, an undrafted free agent who had never played an NHL game before the second round, scored four times in five games against the Rangers.

The Bruins are averaging just over three goals per game through two rounds -- but when it comes to putting the puck in the net, no one is in the Penguins' league.

Pittsburgh led the NHL in scoring during the regular season and is averaging 4.3 goals through its first 11 games this postseason -- no team over the past 15 years has averaged that many during a playoff run that lasted at least two rounds. The Penguins have scored at least four goals in nine of their 11 playoff games, and are 8-1 in those games. Only once this spring has an opponent held the Penguins to fewer than three goals.

Both of Pittsburgh's special teams have been excellent through two rounds. The power play is ranked first at 28.3 percent; the penalty killers are third at 89.7 percent. Boston is fifth on the power play (21.9 percent) and eighth on the penalty kill (81.1 percent).

Pittsburgh, which is in the conference finals for the first time since winning the Cup in 2009, was 3-0-0 against Boston during the regular season, outscoring the Bruins 8-5 in three one-goal victories. The Penguins have won the last six regular-season games between the teams and are 6-0-0 in their last six trips to TD Garden.

Krejci leads all playoff scorers through two rounds with 17 points. But the next four players on the scoring list are all Penguins -- Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang have 16 points, Sidney Crosby has 15 and Jarome Iginla has 12. Crosby has nine goals and 32 points in 22 career games against the Bruins (1.45 points per game).

Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun, 6-1 in the playoffs since taking over from Marc Andre-Fleury in the first round, defeated Boston twice in as many tries during the regular season, posting a .958 save percentage and 1.50 goals-against average. Rask, who has started every game for the Bruins this spring and is 8-4-0, was 0-2-0 against the Penguins during the regular season and is 1-4-0 lifetime.

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