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May 28, 2013 | 12:54pm ET
Bruins set to begin Eastern Conference Finals
By Shawn Hutcheon,

BOSTON, MA -- Throughout the 2013 season, the belief existed throughout the NHL’s Eastern Conference that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Pittsburgh.

Justifiably so.

The Penguins' lineup reminds everyone of a certain 1980s dynasties from the Great White North.

Has a team been as offensively explosive since the Edmonton Oilers were, leaving all other NHL teams in their ice shavings? One does not come to mind, but the Boston Bruins have had Pittsburgh in their sights all along and welcome the challenge they will be presented with in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston lost all three regular-season contests against Pittsburgh and some may think that fact would serve as either a negative in the players' minds or as motivation. The truth of the matter is, it is neither. The Bruins have put those games in the past. They are water under the bridge.

As we hear players and coaches say, the playoffs are a new season. Each game is a new game. The mantra of professional hockey players is, “not too high and not too low.”

Simply put, when they win a game, they enjoy it for that night and come sunrise they have put it behind them and begin preparing for the next game. They apply the same philosophy after a lost. While fans and media help create the hype after a victory or wallow in misery after a loss, the players put each game behind them and get ready for the next one.

The Bruins and Penguins are preparing for Game 1 as you read this. What are they concerned about? The Bruins are focusing on what it will take to be better against the Penguins than they were against the Rangers and Maple Leafs. The Penguins are also hoping to be an improved club going into the next round of the playoffs.

Bruins coach Claude Julien put it clearly when asked before game one of the Toronto series what was he expecting the Leafs to bring to the table. He answered, “I don’t care.”

Not one member of the black and gold were worried about how good Toronto would be because they are experienced enough to know that the best teams make their opponents worry about them. Every player says it before every playoff series and before every playoff game. You hear the words from every corner of the dressing room.

Patrice Bergeron spoke for his club before game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers when he said, “What matters is what we do, how we play. If we play our best, we should be successful.”

There is no doubt that the Penguins are saying the same thing because they are also experienced winners. The franchise won the Stanley Cup just four years ago. They are hoping their “best” will see them through to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Pittsburgh certainly has the talent to get to the Finals. Everyone is talking about familiar names such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Jarome Iginla and many more. A group with an abundance of talent and skill. They have been, as previously mentioned, among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, we will see two supremely accomplished squads facing off against each other. Everyone watching will be wary of the opponent but the good news is that fear, if you will, is not in the players’ minds and because of that, we will see some of the best hockey of 2013.

Who will win the series?

Despite all of Pittsburgh’s offensive weaponry, they do not have the depth to match all four of Boston’s lines. The Black and Gold’s Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, also known as the “Merlot line” due to the maroon colored jerseys the trio dons in practice, has become known as the NHL’s best fourth line. The trio has chipped in with five goals and eight assists in this postseason while supplying an energy seldom sustained by most lines in the league, both offensively and defensively.

In goal, if Boston’s Tuukka Rask falters, his club has a very capable backup in Anton Khudobin, who posted a 9-4-1 regular season record and a 2.32 goals-against-average accompanied by a .920 save percentage. The Pens are currently relying on their second man in command of the crease, Tomas Vokoun.

Vokoun could be a starting netminder on most NHL teams but if Boston solves the Czech native, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma will be forced to return Marc-Andre Fleury to the crease. Fleury has a Stanley Cup ring from 2009 but he does not appear to be the same confident goaltender in 2013 that he was during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run and that would pose a problem for Bylsma’s club.

The final factor that could go a long way in deciding which team will take on the Western Conference champion will be the defensemen. Letang is worthy of being a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, as is Boston’s Zdeno Chara. The remaining blueliners from each club will play major roles in all situations and while Pittsburgh’s defense corps is as good as it gets patrolling their own zone, Boston’s top six are more mobile and faster. They have also proven to be offensively gifted as well. Thirteen lamplighters of Boston’s total playoff output of 38 have come from its blueline. Pittsburgh’s defensemen have contributed eight of the club’s forty-seven goals.

Add it all up and the sum is a seven game victory for Boston.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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