PITTSBURGH — Secrets? Ah yes, secrets. You have come to the right place. Don’t turn the page or click that “next” thingy.
The Bruins and Penguins square off Saturday night in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup semifinal series and we supply you here with the Boston intel necessary to navigate the best-of-seven set.
The Bruins will roll four lines. I know. You . . . are . . . shocked. Beyond words. But there it is. Coach Claude Julien, a man who prefers his bread and butter served with a side order of bread and butter, will neither shorten nor lengthen his bench now.
The only question on the keep-’em-rollin’ side is what Julien will do with the right wing slot on Lines 2 and 3. As Rounds 1 and 2 unfolded, he made ex-Penguins star Jaromir Jagr the right-side guy with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Tyler Seguin, whose one goal in the postseason is one more than Jagr has, ended up on Jagr’s former trio with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly.
What now? Secret says . . . same ol’ same ol’. At least to start the series.
Thus far, Jagr and Seguin have been equally dysfunctional in the postseason, the two wrongs that don’t make the right wing right. The team’s offense has been propped up by Lines 1 and 4 and a surprisingly new-age defense keyed by newcomers Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug.
Will either Jagr or Seguin come around now? Sorry, some secrets can’t be shared. Jagr (41) is old and slow, but has a tremendous hockey I.Q. Seguin is young (21) and blazin’ fast, but his hockey I.Q. may be slower than Jagr’s legs. At least that’s what we’ve seen to date, through his first three seasons and 235 NHL games (one Cup and 32 playoff games included).
But here is what we know of Boston’s two right wingers: When something worked for either of them this year, it was when Seguin rode with Marchand and Bergeron as a potent threesome early in the regular season.
Maybe neither of them will get it going this postseason, but the bet here is that nothing will happen unless Seguin returns to that No. 2 line. When he faded there in the Toronto series, Julien had no choice but to give Jagr a look. But the look hasn’t been good.
Another option could be to try Peverley up there, which, given his underperformance to date, is just another dart heaved toward the board.
The Penguins are huge favorites. We’ve known that for weeksEven Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said, “They’re a lock, right?’’ in the hours after the bollixed attempt to bring Jarome Iginla to Boston.
Chiarelli was being sarcastic, of course, summoning his best sardonic Harry Sinden. He was peeved over Iginla not coming here after being told by Flames GM Jay Feaster that Iginla was signed, sealed, and delivered in a deal that included Bartkowski going to Calgary. Iginla quickly turned that beat around, opting to go to Pittsburgh, and he rides these days on his off wing (left) with elite center Evgeni Malkin and sharpshooting James Neal.
On the power play, Iginla usually can be found on a second unit with Jussi Jokinen and Brenden Morrow. When the season began, all three played for different teams, Jokinen with Carolina and Morrow with Dallas. Now they’re backing up a potent PP1 unit that includes Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Neal. Iginla, Jokinen, and Morrow have combined for 6-13—19 production in the postseason.
Pittsburgh’s scoring depth (4.27 goals per game) is its greatest strength. To neutralize that, or at least combat it, the Bruins will have to take their heavy game and make it heavier. They’ll need Milan Lucic in beast mode, which he showed traces of in the Toronto and New York series. That could be a surprise for the Penguins, because Lucic was a scratch (Julien’s decision) when the two squads faced each other April 20. That’s a reflection of both how bad Lucic was and how far he has come.
The Bruins also will need back-line giants Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg putting their big bodies to those talented, prolific Penguins forwards. Will Julien keep his favorite shutdown pairing as partners? It doesn’t look like it. Again, at least not from the start.
Friday’s workout had Chara working with Johnny Boychuk, and Seidenberg with almost-a-Flame Bartkowski. The third pairing had newbie sensation Krug paired once again with Adam McQuaid.
So what of Andrew Ference? More secrets. Ference spent Round 2 in a walking boot and has been back practicing only this week. All Julien would say Friday about the veteran blue liner was that he presented something “to think about’’ if doctors cleared him for action.
We can’t be sure what Julien’s thinking is, but we do know that Bartkowski and Krug have added a whole lot of giddyup to a Boston back end that too often this season moved like the Saturday night dance crowd at Happy Valley Assisted Living Center. The word “bunions’’ comes to mind. Blue line bunions.
Bartkowski has proven he can deliver solid, meaningful minutes on a No. 1 pairing. Krug drove in four goals in five games vs. the Rangers, outpacing Bobby Orr’s first-year playoff pace.
Pulling one of those guys out for a 34-year-old Ference, working his way back from a bad foot? It doesn’t make sense. Not when a more mobile back end should be essential in relieving the kind of offensive pressure the Penguins are expected to bring.
As surely as four lines will roll, Tuukka Rask will be in the Boston net. Tomas Vokoun is the Penguins goalie until further notice. Which means he’s there unless he fails and the job goes back to Marc-Andre Fleury. If Rask’s backup, Anton Khudobin, is seen any time soon, it likely means the series, and Boston’s season, is finished.
So there we have it. Scant few confidences to share as the puck is about to be dropped in Round 3. Maybe a right wing wrinkle. Perhaps (though not for me) a decision to make among Bartkowski-Krug-Ference. And a start date awaiting for the Stanley Cup Final. That’s probably June 14 or 15, if not sooner, but that’s a secret the league won’t surrender.