On Thursday, Brough and I talked to NBC’s Kay Adams about what to expect from the 2013 Eastern Conference finals.
In the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, we have two of the last four Stanley Cup winners, and two teams that easily dispatched of their opponents in the conference semis.
(The Pens beat the Sens in five games; the Bruins beat the Rangers in five as well.)
What are some of the keys for both Boston and Pittsburgh?
We take a look in the latest edition of PHT Extra:
Andrew Ference won’t return to action for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien confirmed as much after Thursday’s practice, saying the veteran defenseman still hasn’t received medical clearance to return from his undisclosed injury.
The 34-year-old hasn’t played since Game 5 of the Toronto series, but has resumed skating and was recently described as “on the mend,” by Julien.
Julien also stated that, even if Ference was healthy enough to return, there’s no guarantee he’d get in.
Young defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug have performed admirably in relief (Ference and Wade Redden missed the entire second round; Dennis Seidenberg only returned for Game 5) and could be tough to drop from the lineup.
That said, it could be hard for Boston to go without Ference’s postseason experience.
He has 110 career playoff games under his belt, appearing in two Stanley Cup finals (in ’04 with Calgary and during Boston’s 2011 championship).
Jarome Iginla had his choice of being traded to the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins. As we all now know, he chose Pittsburgh, even though the Bruins initially thought the opposite.
Now he’ll battle the team he turned down for the right to play in the Stanley Cup finals — and he’s not surprised by how things turned out.
“I was very fortunate that both teams were interested and I was fortunate that Calgary gave me that chance,” Iginla told the Penguins’ official website. “I chose Pitt. I’m thrilled.
“I know Boston is a great team and it was one of those situations that when I did it, I knew there was a big possibility that we’d be in this situation and here we are. I’m excited about the challenge.”
So far, the Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten exactly what they wanted out of Iginla. He hasn’t been their star player in the postseason, but he’s been a huge contributor with four goals and 12 points in 11 games. That puts him in fourth place among the Penguins, but only one Boston Bruins player has done better.
After missing out on Iginla, the Bruins acquired Jaromir Jagr. He’s struggled in the playoffs, but traditionally has been strong against the team that originally drafted him in 1990. During the 2012 playoffs, Jagr had a goal and seven points to help the Philadelphia Flyers eliminate the Penguins in six games.
Both players will attract a lot of attention in the Eastern Conference finals.
Iginla: Stanley Cup or no, I’m not retiring
Bruins GM Chiarelli sticks to his guns over Jagr-Iginla debate
Many of the Boston Bruins players were teammates with Marc Savard when Matt Cooke’s controversial hit basically ended his career. Milan Lucic told CSNNE.com that they haven’t forgotten that moment, but they don’t intend to jeopardize their chances to win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the name of revenge.
“It’s an interesting question because if it wasn’t for that [Cooke hit], where would Marc Savard be today? He’d still be under contract with us, and would be on our team,” Lucic said. “I still talk to [Savard] and keep in touch with him. He was a good friend of mine when he was on the team.
“It’s still in the back of your mind, but it’s not the focal point when you’re getting ready to play in this kind of a series.”
(Note: Savard is technically still under contract until the 2016-17 season ends, although he’s almost certain to remain on the LTIR.)
Head coach Claude Julien equates the situation to maintaining discipline in regard to Jarome Iginla’s decision to snub the team and join the Penguins instead.
“It depends what you mean by that,” Julien said. “Are you talking about the [Marc] Savard thing? Or are you talking about the way Matt Cooke plays? There are different ways of answering that. At one point, you’ve got to move on from certain things. Just like the next question will be like Iginla. Stuff like that. We all know about that. The thing we have to focus on is finding a way to win the series.
“If you just want revenge on this guy or that guy . . . is it really the right focus to have? The best way to get that satisfaction is by winning a series. So I think that’s where your focus has to be.”
The Eastern Conference finals aren’t kicking off until Saturday, so that allows the Boston Bruins a lot of time to rest up. It also opens the door for them to gather a lot of bulletin board material from various pundits picking the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the series.
Milan Lucic went as far as to compare the Penguins to the NBA’s Miami Heat. Brad Marchand told CSNNE.com that he understands that the Bruins are playing the role of underdogs.
“That’s how it goes sometimes,” Marchand said. “Obviously, they are the favorites. They have some guys that are very skilled and very talented, and they have the two best players in the world . . . and then you add Iginla. And their third and fourth line are playing so well right now.
“We’re in over our heads. We’ve got a big job to do. We’re all excited to try it out and see how it goes …”
The 25-year-old thinks that they might face an even tougher challenge than when many counted them out against the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
“Things can happen in hockey, and you can get some good bounces. Hopefully we get some of those,” Marchand said. “In any seven-game series you definitely want to wear the other guys down, especially their top guys. But Pittsburgh is a little different. They’ve got some very physical guys over there, and their third and fourth lines play very hard.
“Even the first line with [Chris] Kunitz and [Pascal] Dupuis, those are hard-working guys. Second line with Neal and Iginla, those guys will work, too. I think those guys will battle a lot harder than Vancouver did in the Finals.”