There are storylines aplenty in this year’s Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals.
In many ways, the NHL events that took place on March 27th and 28th make this 2013 Eastern Conference Finals now seem almost predetermined.
A few days before the league trade deadline, it appeared that Flames forward and future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla would be flipped to Boston, except at the last minute he chose the Penguins instead. That meant Bruins prospect and defensemen Matt Bartkowski (a Pittsburgh native and Penguins fan growing up) would stay with Boston and the B’s later traded for former Penguins great Jaromir Jagr, who was then in Dallas.
Iginla (4 goals, 8 assists this post season) has been better than both Jagr (4 assists) and Bartkowski (1 goal, 1 assist) combined, but the Bruins found a way to win two rounds in the playoffs with each guy playing a decent sized role. Jagr had 439 career goals when he was a superstar in Pittsburgh from 1990 to 2001 – and had 65 goals in the playoffs over those 11 seasons in the Steel City. Given his recent struggles with scoring, the B’s are hoping Jagr may get an adrenaline boost against the Pens, playing against a city that he once owned.
The Penguins have been the top team in the Eastern Conference all season so the fact that they reached this stage is less surprising given their abundance of world-class talent in Sidney Crosby (7 goals, 8 assists), Evgeni Malkin (4 goals, 12 assists), Kris Letang (3 goals 13 assists) and James Neal (6 goals, 4 assists) among others. After eliminating the Rangers last Saturday, Bruins forward Milan Lucic even went so far as to compare the Penguins to the Miami Heat, given that their roster is flooded with big-name talent.
Another HUGE storyline is, well, how much the Penguins actually are the biggest douche-bags on the ice. Former Bruin’s center Marc Savard has never officially hung up his skates and he’s only 35 years old, because of Penguins enforcer Matt Cooke who effectively ended his career on March 7, 2010 with a vicious (and blatantly dirty) blow to the head (that SOMEHOW WENT UNPUNISHED BY THE NHL) in a game at Consol Energy Center.
The B’s never really responded to Cooke’s dirty hit and though now is certainly not the time to hand out justice three years later, its another interesting sidebar in this series. Personally I think he should be flattened by Chara a couple times, and lose the rest of the teeth in that stupid smile – not because it was vicious and uncalled for – but because this wasn’t the first dirty hit on a Bruins player, and sadly, will most likely not be the last.
This deep seeded hatred and rivalry with this team isn’t just from the past few years – it also has roots in the past decade or so. Everyone my age remembers the hit on Marc Savard, but anyone remember Cam Neely? The president of the Bruins Organization? Remember the 1991 Conference Finals?
The first of the two dirtiest hits from the Penguins came 19 years apart in the same Pittsburgh arena. Cam Neely was upended by a nasty leg check by Ulf Samuelsson in Game 3 of the Wales Conference Finals on May 3, 1991, at the Civic Arena. The Pens kept the Bruins out of the Stanley Cup Finals TWICE because of dirty hits – and i’ll be damned if it happens again this year. Seriously – I’ll go ape-shit.
And the league hasn’t done much to help. Neither dirty hit (on Savard or Neely) resulted in a penalty, although Mike Milbury, the Bruins’ coach in 1991, was furious at the Samuelsson non-call to the point where he beat a stick against the boards and the glass. Neely and Savard, however, were never the same after the injuries.
Of course it takes an army – not one person or any one dirty hit – to change hockey’s culture.
It’s unfortunately hypocritical — but at least Mario Lemieux has been spear-heading the initiative of getting rid of dirty hits and head shots. He employs Matt Cooke and supports his style of play and even vehemently says Cooke has changed, but come on, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Once a douche-bag, always a douche-bag.
This is all especially great coming from a team who consistently complains about diving and dirty hits on their players, but makes little effort to play cleanly themselves.
Regardless, if you tally up the talent on both sides, I think the Bruins STILL HAVE THE EDGE over the penguins IF the Penguins can manage to just focus on playing hockey – CLEANLY – which if the record serves as any evidence, they won’t.
I just sincerely hope that the Bruins (and the league) is strong enough to fight back against dirty hits justly with resilience and power – so we can fiercely stuff the puck down their throats and step over their team on our way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Either way – I still believe in our team.
This year Boston bleeds Black and Gold – and we’re playing for something much greater than just the Cup. We’re playing for our City, and our Citizens – and that is a much stronger force to be reckoned with.