BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins had two days to rest and prepare for the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the previous round.
So, fresh off dispatching the Rangers in five games, they're taking advantage of a lull in the schedule prior to taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals, which will start later this week.
Bruins coach Claude Julien gave his players a second straight day away from the ice Monday, and even said he and his coaches would get out of TD Garden by the middle of the day to enjoy the Memorial Day holiday with friends and family. Then it'll be back to work.
"[Monday] is the last day [off]. They need to get back on the ice here," Julien said during a press conference Monday morning. "I thought two days was a good thing because we'll have at least a couple of days -- Tuesday, Wednesday -- to practice. This time of year there's not a ton of things you can do with your team more than get them some rest and still have a couple of days to accomplish a lot. I keep repeating, with the regular-season schedule that we ended with and a seven-game series and the way the playoffs have gone, I think it was important for our guys to just get two days off and then come back and try to be as fresh as we can for the next series."
The Bruins will have to be as fresh as they can be to mount a challenge to the powerful top-seeded Penguins, who like the Bruins won their second-round series in five games. The Penguins enter the series the same way they ended the regular season: with the best goals-per-game average in the NHL. The Penguins are scoring 4.27 goals per game in the playoffs, and their power play, second in the League during the regular season, leads the NHL at a 28.3-percent success rate.
Pittsburgh will present the Bruins with an amount of speed and depth Boston has yet to encounter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We know they're highly skilled up front," Julien said. "And even on the back end, you've got guys that can carry the puck … [Kris] Letang, [Paul] Martin, those guys. They've got a lot of everything. So we know we're going to have to be extremely good, but we've been there before and having to face teams with good speed. Vancouver [in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final] was one of those teams that everybody talked about had great speed. So it's not like we're going into unknown territory here. We respect that, we acknowledge that, that they have that stuff, but it's not just about the defense. It's about the five-man unit on the ice. And we need numbers coming back. We can't afford to get caught deep and leave our [defensemen] alone and having to battle that.
"But what's going to be important, obviously, is our game without the puck and making sure we have numbers coming back. But at the same time we've got to be extremely good in the offensive zone. And the more time we spend there, the more it works to our benefit."
Julien and his staff will have to devise a plan to match up against the Penguins' top two lines, centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The coach said he has several options, including the possibility of splitting his top defense pair of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg to balance his defense corps.
Julien respects the talent the Penguins' top two lines have and understands why they get so much adoration, but he has faith in his top two lines to make a difference in the series. With David Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, and Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr, the Bruins have a solid combination of production and experience.
"We've got two lines that we feel are pretty good as well," Julien said. "Maybe we don't have the names that the Penguins have when it comes to the Crosbys and Malkins, but we have guys that have done a great job in the past, that have worked well together and that have given us an opportunity to be a championship team."
Recent history doesn’t bode well for the Bruins as far as slowing the Penguins. Pittsburgh has won the past six meetings dating to the middle of the 2011-12 season, and Boston has lost its past three visits to Consol Energy Center. The Bruins haven't beaten the Penguins at TD Garden since Nov. 10, 2009 (0-5-1).
If it's any consolation, this season's three losses to Pittsburgh were by one goal apiece. Julien said he and his staff will review those games, as well as other clips, to try to gain an edge on the Penguins.
"We go through everything," he said. "We'll look at our games and things that we did well, things that we need to be better at. But we also look at the playoff games. We look at everything. There's not much that doesn't get looked at. That's the way hockey is today. But the regular season is one thing; playoffs is another. So we're certainly not hanging our hats on the fact that our record wasn't good against them this year. There's only three goals difference at the end of the day. So I don't think in three games that's a big thing to worry about."