Penguins not putting stock in regular-season success
PITTSBURGH -- The veteran Pittsburgh Penguins are too wise to let a three-game regular season sweep of the Boston Bruins provide them with any reassurance that the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals will come easy.
"It's the playoffs," wing Pascal Dupuis said. "It's a different game. It's a different animal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
As the Penguins prepare to face the Bruins -- the schedule for their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2009 has not yet been released -- they'll study video of their three one-goal victories against Boston during the regular season. But players say the games contested March 12 and March 17 at Consol Energy Center and April 20 at TD Garden have little bearing on what will happen in the next two weeks.
"We'll definitely look at the tapes, see some things we did well and did wrong against them in the first three matchups," Dupuis said. "But everything is different, the players on our team are different from when we met them the first two times. And of course you know that when everything is on the line every shift out there in the playoffs, things aren't the same."
Boston held a lead in two of the three meetings, and Pittsburgh had a lead of more than one goal once -- for a time period of 11:28. In a measure of how evenly-matched the two teams are, over their three regular-season meetings, Pittsburgh led for 57:52 and Boston led for 64:25.
The most entertaining game they played was the first one. On March 12, the Bruins took a 2-0 first-period lead and held it until Chris Kunitz scored with 6:18 left in regulation. That was the first of three Penguins goals in a span of 4:15 that allowed Pittsburgh to escape with a 3-2 win.
"It took us [almost 54] minutes to finally score, but we thought we were playing well," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You've just got to be really patient against them. Patience is the biggest thing because they can really frustrate you with the way they play.
"They're really good defensively and in the neutral zone they're really, really responsible, so they kind of bait you into situations where you think you have something and it closes down pretty quick. And they're a good transition team, so you just have to really be patient."
Throughout the Penguins locker room, players expressed a healthy respect for the structure and commitment Claude Julien and the Bruins play with.
"Every line, every player, to a man, plays their system to a T," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "Everyone battles hard and is real sound defensively. They play a structured game that everybody buys into.
"Every team has a structure and a system, but some teams follow it better than others. It's obvious how everybody on their team buys into it."
In the Penguins' first two postseason series, against the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators, they enjoyed several strengths against inexperienced opponents who appeared to be overwhelmed at times. Those advantages likely will be negated against an experienced Bruins squad. The Penguins have retained many of the players who helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2009. The Bruins' roster is almost identical to the one that won the Cup two years ago.
Another edge Pittsburgh routinely holds over its opponents is its superior depth. Against Boston, that is mitigated by the Bruins' fourth line and extra defensemen, all of whom have excelled during this postseason.
"They're a tough team to play against. Real structured, some big D, and they also have skill throughout their lineup," goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "I don't think there's anything left you can look at and say 'We can exploit this or that.' The Bruins are going to make for a tough series."
Boston may be a No. 4 seed, but it finished one point out of the Northeast Division lead and with the fifth-most points in the NHL. Because of that impressive record, many prognosticators envisioned the Bruins and top-seeded Penguins going toe-to-toe in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But neither team enjoyed a clear path to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins required two overtime wins to dispatch the Islanders, and the Bruins staged a miraculous turnaround in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, coming back from three goals down in the third period before Patrice Bergeron scored in overtime. Following their opening-round struggles, each dispatched a quality team in the conference semifinals in five games.
Now the Penguins and Bruins are a single step away from playing for the Stanley Cup.
"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."