It might not be a dream matchup, but when the playoffs started about a month ago, it was hard not to eyeball the prospects of a Pittsburgh-Boston Eastern Conference finals. After the two teams encountered unexpected resistance in the first round, from the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs respectively, the Penguins and Bruins found another gear in dispatching the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers in five games apiece. The two teams boast deep, talented lineups that are as comfortable playing a crash-and-bang style as they are wide-open offense. In fact, as of Sunday morning, the top six playoff point producers were either Bruins or Penguins. Both teams have won Cups in the past four years, so don't expect jitters, regardless of the circumstances, as the leadership core runs deep on both sides of the ice.
1. Getting Iggy with it
No one in the Bruins' locker room is apt to say they'd like to stick it to former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who looked like he was headed to Boston at the trade deadline but changed his mind at the last second to agree to a trade with the Pens. But there must be an underlying element of wanting to prove Iginla wrong, and what better way than to send him home for the summer while the Bruins advance to the Stanley Cup finals? But the dynamic runs both ways. Iginla is a fierce competitor and he understands that he'll have to back up his decision with action in this series. It's been an up-and-down time for the veteran winger as he's bounced around the top two lines during the postseason, playing for a time with the Sidney Crosby trio before settling in with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal for the most part. There's nothing wrong with Iginla's production, however, as he has four goals and eight assists and has settled in as an important part of the Penguins' deadly power-play group with two goals and three assists on the unit.
2. Feeling special
If the Bruins are going to keep pace with the Penguins, it will be important to not take a preponderance of penalties and keep the Penguins' power play at bay when they are in the box. Ottawa, a strong defensive team during the regular season, couldn't do it and it cost the Senators. What about the Bruins? The Penguins have scored 13 goals with the man advantage in 11 postseason games. Seven different players have scored power-play goals. Now, the Bruins have the goods to blunt the Pens' attack. They stifled the New York Rangers' power play, allowing just two goals on 16 opportunities in the series, including blanking them through the first three games of the series, all Boston victories. They were less effective in the first round against the Maple Leafs, though. With the man advantage, the Bruins were no slouches either, scoring four times on 12 attempts with the man advantage against the Rangers, so that will be something the Penguins will have to deal with. The Senators lacked the firepower that Boston brings, but the Penguins have been very good on the penalty kill through the first two rounds, allowing just four goals on 39 chances -- the third-best penalty kill efficiency in the postseason. Suffice it to say the team that can win the special-teams battle will be headed down the right road to advancing.
3. The Vokoun storyline
Seems kind of churlish to be picking apart a goalie who has gone 6-1 and turned in a save percentage of .941, second only to Jonathan Quick in the playoffs, but talk to scouts and executives and they'll point to the goaltending as an area in which the Bruins will hold an advantage. And, to be sure, Tuukka Rask has been very good, allowing just 10 goals in five games in the second round. "Rask is way better but Pittsburgh is capable of going off on anyone," an Eastern Conference-based scout told ESPN.com. The feeling is that the veteran Vokoun, who has never been on an extended playoff run, gives up too many rebounds and could be vulnerable to an aggressive forechecking team like the Bruins. The 36-year-old acknowledged after the Penguins pushed aside the Senators in five games that he still feels like he's on a tryout and that he's not sure what would happen if he stumbled. Indeed, there remains significant debate on the length of Vokoun's leash, given the presence of former starter and Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury biding his time at the end of the bench. The Bruins would like to bring that storyline into much sharper focus by getting to Vokoun early in the series.
4. Fourth-line magic
The Penguins have scored at least four goals in nine of their 11 postseason games, so even if Boston is able to slow the Pens down at least a little offensively, the pressure is going to be on the Bruins to score goals, and preferably in bunches. That means the big guns will have to keep going. David Krejci leads all playoff producers with 17 points and Nathan Horton has 12 points and five goals, two of which were game winners as the duo, along with Milan Lucic, has proved to be a dominant force. But it also means the Bruins' formidable fourth line will have to keep adding bonus offense. The trio of Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell has combined for five goals and 13 points, and was especially effective against the Rangers, scoring at crucial times to keep the Rangers off-balance. It's interesting to note that the Penguins have also enjoyed production from deep in their forward lineup. Brenden Morrow has played both third- and fourth-line minutes and opened the scoring for the Pens in Game 5 and has two goals and two assists, while Tyler Kennedy, who started the playoffs a healthy scratch, has meshed nicely with Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke on a third-line shutdown unit that also has contributed regularly on the offensive side of things.
5. Blue-line depth
So, who doesn't want to watch goal-scoring leader Sidney Crosby, cleared Sunday to play without a jaw shield after suffering a broken jaw at the end of March, and Zdeno Chara tangle for six or seven games? Talk about a battle of wills. But if Chara plays against Crosby, then what does Boston head coach Claude Julien do about the suddenly potent Evgeni Malkin-James Neal-Jarome Iginla trio? Neal came awake late in the Ottawa series and has five goals and two assists in his past two games. The issue is exacerbated by the injury situation along the Boston blue line. Dennis Seidenberg returned for Game 5 after missing the first four games of the Rangers series with a lower-body injury. He is key to stabilizing the Bruins' blue line, playing almost exclusively with Chara. But Andrew Ference remains out and has been wearing a walking boot. Wade Redden has also been out of the lineup, which has left more minutes for unproven youngsters Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and goal-scoring sensation Torey Krug, who has chipped in four goals and an assist in five games. Krug has been a boon to the Bruins' power play, but the issue for the Bruins will be whether these rookie defenders (Hamilton sat when Seidenberg returned) can continue to log important minutes against a team as dynamic as the Penguins. "It's going to come down to how the B's depth defensemen play," the scout said. "Chara will be fine against anyone. B's centers can play against anyone. D-men can't."
• This should be a dandy and we're expecting more than one twist and turn in the momentum department. But Sidney Crosby and his gang are going too well to be stopped offensively, and the Penguins' blue line and goaltending will hold up long enough to send them back to the finals. Penguins in 6.