Penguins general manager Ray Shero knew that if his team were to make a championship run, at some point they’d have to go through the Boston Bruins.
“If we were going to go deep into the playoffs I think we all felt Boston was a team we’d potentially have to play,” he said.
The Penguins and Bruins have been two model NHL franchises over the last seven years (not coincidently that is when Shero took over in Pittsburgh and general manager Peter Chiarelli was hired in Boston). Over that period, both teams have been consistent championship contenders, won division titles, and most importantly won the Stanley Cup (Pittsburgh in 2009, Boston in 2011).
Yet despite all of both team’s successes, they’ve never met in the playoffs during the time.
“The teams have been good. They’ve won a Cup. We’ve won a Cup,” Shero said. “We’ve never played each other in the playoffs. Pittsburgh-Boston hasn’t played since ’92. I think that’s the way it should be. I’m looking forward to the series. It should be a great series. They’re a really good team, formidable team, well coached. We know all about Boston. It’s good for the sport. It makes for a great storyline.”
The Penguins are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the favorite to win the series. That’s not surprising considering the talent that Shero has amassed on the roster.
Pittsburgh was already one of the best teams in the NHL with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Brooks Orpik.
The Penguins became even more deadly when Shero acquired four players near the NHL trade deadline: future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla; Dallas captain Brenden Morrow; physically imposing Douglas Murray; and versatile faceoff specialist Jussi Jokinen.
“True professionals, all of them, the four that we picked up at the deadline,” Shero said. “Each one of the players we got at the deadline brings that leadership quality, but they’ve brought it in a different way than they had with their former team. It’s been a good fit. Good people joining good people. That combination works out well off the ice. On the ice they’ve all fit the role that we hoped they would. They’ve all done good jobs for us.”
The Penguins have so much depth that even quality players like Tyler Kennedy, Joe Vitale, Beau Bennett, Tanner Glass and Jokinen have had a hard time finding their way into the lineup.
“We’ve gotten to the third round because the depth of our hockey team has really come through,” Shero said. “You saw that starting with Game 5 of the Islanders series, inserting three players into the lineup with Tomas Vokoun, Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale that made a difference in that series and helped us win that series. To get this far you need contributions from everybody.”
While the Penguins’ depth is impressive, Shero wasn’t anointing the current team just yet when asked how they stack up to his previous Penguins’ teams.
“I think it’s our deepest team,” he said. “In ’09 we won a Stanley Cup championship so that is our best team right now.”
In order for the current Penguins team to reach that level, in Shero’s estimation they’re going to need to take it up a notch.
“I still think we have another level to get to as a hockey team, Boston probably feels the same way about their squad,” Shero said. “So it should be a great series.
“We will need all hands on deck starting Saturday.”