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Pens-Bruins Wales Showdowns Revisited

by Wes Crosby / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins are days away from clashing with the Boston Bruins in the conference finals for the third time in the franchises’ histories. While waiting for this postseason’s contest between the two to begin, let’s take a look at the clubs’ previous conference finals matchups.

The Pens got the better of Boston in both previous meetings -1990-91 and 1991-92 – the latter with a dominant four-game sweep that catapulted Pittsburgh to its second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

During the 1990-91 Wales Conference Final between the Pens and Bruins, Boston – a storied franchise that had been to two of the previous three Stanley Cup Finals – jumped out to 2-0 series lead on the Penguins – who had missed the playoffs in seven of the previous eight seasons.

Mario Lemieux is presented with the Prince of Wales Conference trophy after beating the Bruins in 1991.

Pittsburgh responded with quite possibly the most important playoff run in franchise history, winning four straight by a margin of 20-7 (including 7-2 in Game 5) to earn its first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

“It think the ’91 series was one of the most important series in franchise history,” Penguins Vice President of Communications Tom McMillan said. “Going into the ’91 playoffs, the Penguins had not won anything, it was only the second time in Mario Lemieux’s career the team had made the playoffs. So, the feeling then is different than the feeling now.

“It’s the one where you really started to believe that you’d be a champion. It allowed them to believe with the quality of the opponent. To beat a team like the Boston Bruins in the conference finals, for a team that had been around for 24 years, that was a big step.”

The Penguins exited that series battle-tested and with a champion’s mindset that helped them claim their first Stanley Cup that postseason. They made it to another conference finals matchup with Boston the following year.

Pittsburgh entered the 1991-92 Wales Conference Final after battling back from a 3-1 opening-series deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals in seven games and winning the last three against the New York Rangers to take their second-round series in six.

“They were really playing well coming out of that Rangers series,” McMillan said. “I think the Bruins certainly would’ve been favored in the ’91 series and the Penguins were favored in the ’92 series as the defending champs and they had really regained their balance.”

The Penguins began Game 1 without captain Mario Lemieux in its lineup due to a broken hand suffered during the Rangers series. The game was Pittsburgh’s toughest of the series, battling the Bruins into overtime, before ultimately besting the B’s 4-3.

“You win that game and you just feed off that,” McMillan said. “If you lose that game, you can still come back, but I just think that had become a very good team. There was a lot of chaos that year, so it wasn’t an easy regular season and it wasn’t an easy first two rounds of the playoffs.

“But I think because of what they’d been through before, they were able to gain their balance, just in time.”

Pittsburgh went on to put together an offensive onslaught that lasted the rest of the postseason – including a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Pens scored five goals in each of the last three games against Boston, beginning with a decisive 5-2 victory in Game 2 at the Civic Arena, headlined by the Lemieux’s return. Lemieux led the Penguins with two goals and an assist, while Jaromir Jagr matched the captain’s point total, also earning three (1G-2A).

As the series shifted to Boston, the hometown crowd was unable to help the Bruins gain any traction against the defending champions. Pittsburgh posted back-to-back 5-1 scores to cap the series and advance to its second consecutive Stanley Cup Final, where it won another Cup while finishing the postseason with 11 straight victories.

“It’s a pretty impressive stretch,” McMillan said. “Doing it against those kind of opponents, the Rangers had won the regular season championship, the Bruins – a lot of that team had been to the Finals twice. The Blackhawks were on a streak of their own.

“Just to do that in the playoffs is pretty astounding. It tells you a lot about that team.”

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