PITTSBURGH — In some ways, it’s still stunning.
It was just 4½ months ago that the Bruins skated off the ice on the night of June 7, after a highly unexpected sweep of the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. They were going to the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh was going home.
The outcome didn’t exactly fit with conventional wisdom — certainly not the sweep and not the total of two goals the Penguins scored in the four games of the series.
Now the Bruins are back in Pittsburgh to face the Penguins for the first time since that final 1-0 victory in the series.
“You should be pretty motivated, especially in our situation, but you try to treat it like another game,” said Penguins star Sidney Crosby. “But there should be a little extra intensity because of the fact that we did play them in the playoffs.”
And the Bruins will be ready.
“They’re going to be very motivated to play us extremely hard and that’s just the way it goes, you know?” Zdeno Chara said. “Usually we play each other hard anyway, but with the history of playoff series, it usually means teams do get an extra jump on the other teams.
“I mean, we should be ready for that. It’s not like we don’t know who we’re playing against.”
Looking back on their loss, the Penguins seem to blame it more on themselves than on the Bruins.
As Crosby said, “We hit posts. We missed open nets. I didn’t think there was really a lack of chances.”
They just didn’t convert, and that allowed the Bruins to take the series.
Now, though, they’re ready to get back a little bit of the lost pride, to prove something — even though a regular-season game in October is a far cry from the Eastern Conference finals. It’s something Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma has seen coming and, for the last week, has tried to ignore.
“I don’t think there’s anything we can do [Wednesday] to get back from last spring,” Bylsma said. “I certainly didn’t want to look ahead in any way, shape, or form the past week or the road trip.
“But we knew we were coming home to play Boston, the first time we’ll be playing them again. Absolutely is a rivalry game.”
That’s how the game is being billed by NBC Sports Network, where it will air as much of the region tunes in to see whether the Red Sox can clinch the World Series in Game 6.
This game certainly qualifies as more of a rivalry than last week’s game against the Sabres, which was billed the same way. (Of course, that was before John Scott took out Loui Eriksson with a dirty hit to the head.)
And it’s not viewed as a rivalry just on the side of the losing team. The Bruins can feel the intensity, too.
“You always remember the team that beat you at the end of the year last year, and I’m sure there’s a little bit extra for them going into this game, but there’s also a little bit extra for us because of that series,” Milan Lucic said. “Even though it was a four-game series, it was a pretty emotional series and I think it’s going to make for a fun game.”
Lucic remembers well the first game between the Bruins and Canucks after Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He was issued a (later rescinded) game misconduct for leaving the bench during a fight. That also was the game that featured Brad Marchand’s hit on Sami Salo that later resulted in a suspension — a hit that still has reverberations in the winger’s game.
“I think there is definitely that carryover on both sides heading into this game,” Lucic said. “I think it’ll be an emotional game from start to finish.”
The bitter feelings stem not just from the scores, but from extra shoves and hard hits, from plays just on one side or another of the legal line. Like that much-discussed punch from Chara on Crosby.
Both players declined to discuss that incident on Tuesday, with Chara saying simply “No,” as he anticipated the question from a reporter and Crosby saying “I’m not going to start. It’s in the past. It’s the playoffs and guys do different things in the playoffs.”
So, yes, there are plenty of reasons why this won’t be just another game.
And then there’s the Jarome Iginla factor.
Iginla was a motivator for the Bruins last season, having spurned them for the Penguins when the Calgary Flames traded away their franchise player. Now, he’s on the other side.
“It’s obviously a rivalry that it’s cool to be a part of, and I imagine it’s only growing the way the playoffs went last year,” Iginla said. “I imagine that animosity between the two teams will just get more and more.”