The last time the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off, the Bruins were advancing to the Stanley Cup Final after sweeping the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. It was quite a moment for a Boston team that looked unbeatable after outscoring Pittsburgh 12-2 in the series.
The Penguins will get their first shot at redemption as they host the Bruins in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS2) -- or as some might call it: the Iginla Bowl.
After being dealt from the Calgary Flames to the Penguins at last year's NHL Trade Deadline, Jarome Iginla signed with Boston over the summer. The good thing for Jarome is he had a great opportunity. A lot of guys don't get the opportunity to go to two great teams when they're traded. He was expected to help Pittsburgh win the Cup last season, but I actually think his style of play is more suited to Boston. He is an international world-class player who can play anywhere, but I do think his style of play is more conducive to Boston, just based on the ruggedness of his game.
Don't get me wrong. I like Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero for going out and getting him. It sent a message to his team that they are all in. You have to like when your general manager does that. He gives you the pieces and gives you the best chance of winning. But Iginla is a quintessential power forward, and it looks like he and Milan Lucic are starting to develop chemistry on that top line with David Krejci. That can be lethal going forward.
The Penguins have played well for the most part this season. The challenge I see with the Penguins is sometimes they are soft around their own net. This will be a good matchup, because Boston isn't soft around anyone's net. So I look forward to seeing that matchup between these contrasting styles.
There is some concern about how the loss of defenseman Rob Scuderi, who is out indefinitely after breaking his ankle, could hurt Pittsburgh's defense. He'll be missed, but I definitely think Pittsburgh can win those net battles in his absence. That aspect of the game is more of a mentality. For example, look at a key piece of a big trade that transpired this week. Matt Moulson isn't the biggest guy in the League. He was a key piece in the trade that sent Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres to the New York Islanders because Moulson is willing to play big and get bowled over and cross-checked in the back. He's willing to pay the price to get there. The same thing translates defensively. How strong are you going to play in front of your own net?
It's not a question of whether Pittsburgh can do that. We've seen the Penguins do it. It's just a question of are they committed to doing it on a nightly basis. Are you willing to pay that price nightly? We should find out Wednesday against Boston.
They might have been overwhelmed by Boston in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I still think the Penguins can regain some of their swagger with this one game. Pittsburgh can punch you in the nose with its offense and make you look silly. When those guys are flying, they can hurt you pretty badly.
Just one problem: Scuderi is out, but so is James Neal -- and that has had a big impact on Evgeni Malkin, because Neal is his guy.
Even with the injuries, the Penguins are one of the most exciting teams in hockey. This meeting with the Bruins contest could reveal whether they can do it in the playoffs. With their consistency and hard forecheck, the Bruins are the consummate playoff team, so the Penguins need to respond Wednesday -- because come the playoffs, they're not going to be able to fly up and down on a 3-on-2 all the time. Those guys in Pittsburgh know that.
This is also a statement game for Boston. If you're the Bruins, you want to see how you match up against the best. Pittsburgh has the best player in Sidney Crosby and they have a League MVP in Geno. There are a lot of marquee players on that team. They are a perennial Cup contender. But for me, Boston plays the most complete brand of hockey in the East on a nightly basis. I didn't have them in my top five this week on NHL.com, and I heard from some Boston folks about it. Still, one of the things that impress me most about the Bruins is how on almost every night they come and play like the Boston Bruins. They'll check, they'll defend, they'll hit, but they're also skilled. I don't know that there is a more consistent goalie on a game-by-game basis right now than Tuukka Rask. You put all that together and I think there is a lot to like in this matchup.
More than anything, this game should be fun to watch. Pittsburgh has an amazing arsenal. Kris Letang is back and Marc-Andre Fleury has played exceptionally well to this point. Stylistically, Boston is more consistent.
Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, we'll see which style works best.