PITTSBURGH — The Penguins registered a hat trick against the Bruins this season.
Three games. Three wins. By a total of three goals.
On Sunday, the Penguins, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, returned to the ice, two days after finishing off the Senators in five games, and began mapping their strategy against the fourth-seeded Bruins in the conference finals.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is looking forward to the best-of-seven series, which will begin later this week at the Consol Energy Center.
“I think pretty physical, I think pretty tight,” said Crosby, when asked his expectations for the series. “The games we’ve played against them this year have been that way.
“If that’s any indication of the way it will be, I’m sure it will be much similar to that, with tight checking and the scores will be tight.”
Defenseman Mark Eaton doesn’t think the Penguins’ regular-season wins will carry much weight in the upcoming series.
“I’m sure they’re throwing it out the door and we are as well,” Eaton said. “This is a new series. The teams are different since those meetings, so I don’t think you can put any merit into what happened in those games.”
This will be the fifth meeting between the Penguins and Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs, their first since 1992, when the Penguins swept the Bruins in four games in the conference finals en route to repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
The Penguins also dispatched the Bruins in six games in the conference finals in 1991 on the way to capturing the franchise’s first Cup.
“I think the games are going to go up a level [from the regular season],” defenseman Kris Letang said. “Both teams are going to be desperate to get a place in the finals. We have to focus on Game 1 and get a good start.”
Much like the Penguins, the Bruins have good balance throughout their lineup.
“You don’t get this far without depth,” said Crosby, who practiced Sunday for the first time without the shield he had been wearing to protect his fractured jaw.
“Both teams use that a lot and rely on all four lines and there will be a lot of matchups. And I think that’s going to be a big factor in this series.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik believes the Penguins, who last won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and Bruins are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
“It should be a lot of fun,” Orpik said. “I think at the beginning of the year, a lot of the people pointed to us as [both] getting here. To eventually get here, it doesn’t always happen. So, it should be a pretty good matchup.”
Several key players still remain from the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup team, including captain Zdeno Chara and centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
“Our forwards always have to know when [Chara] is on the ice,” Eaton said. “He plays over half the game and he’s one of the best defensemen in the league. He definitely poses a challenge.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is not all that familiar with Bruins rookie Torey Krug, an undrafted free agent who had played in just two NHL games prior to the second round of the playoffs.
Krug had four goals in five games against the Rangers.
“I don’t know him very well,” Bylsma said. “I just know what he’s done in the last five games for them. And adding in the offensive jump, the speed that he’s played with out there on the power play, and his shot. His skating ability really is a big part of the offense that he brings and he showed that in a lot of different scenarios in tight games and on running the power play.
“That’s a different dynamic for their team. Their power play has kind of looked one way for a while. But with him back there, it’s a different dimension to their power-play unit. The numbers he has put up are pretty spectacular, for a guy to come in, jump into a lineup, and bring that to a team.”
The high-powered Penguins have scored 47 goals in 11 playoff games, averaging 4.3 per game. They also have scored at least one power-play goal in eight straight home playoff games, and their power-play unit is 13 for 46 overall, an NHL-leading 28.2 percent conversion rate.
Pittsburgh’s approach won’t change against Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.
“He’s a good goalie — he’s been good for them all year,” said winger Pascal Dupuis, who is tied with Crosby for the team lead with seven postseason goals.
“But he’s no different than any of the other goalies we have faced or will face. We’ll see how he reacts to our stuff.”