Given the amount of time between games for both teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference final, it’s no wonder some of the people involved sound punchy.
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien got a few laughs after his team’s morning skate when he was asked how glad he was that Saturday night’s opening game against the Pittsburgh Penguins is finally at hand after a seven-day break.
“Yeah, I’m done,” he said.
But he wasn’t quite finished about how well hockey and the early summer go together.
“I think we’re excited,” Julien said, with no trace of a tongue in his cheek. “This is the best time of year to play hockey. June and hockey seem to go hand-in-hand. Beautiful weather and a great sport to be proud of.”
When it comes to his lineup, though, Julien is a lot less loquacious. As usual, he declined to say what his plans are when it comes to the two rookie defencemen who stepped into the Bruins lineup earlier in the playoffs when veterans Andrew Ference and Wade Redden went down with injuries.
However, from the Bruins’ morning skate, it appears both Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug will play in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
Bartkowski went through the drills on the second pairing with Johnny Boychuk while Krug was on the third pair with Adam McQuaid. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will stay together on the top unit, which will likely be employed against Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby’s line. There was some talk of splitting them up and putting Seidenberg against Pens centre Evgeni Malkin.
Aside from perhaps Chara, the Bruins are a team without superstars but, as Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged, Julien has taught all four lines and three pairs of defence to be solely dedicated to playing his fore-checking and defensive systems.
“I think they are a tough team to play against because they are solid through all four lines,” Bylsma said. “They play a structured game, a good defensive game.
“But they do have offensive abilities. They don’t just play defensively and try to win a game.”
Each line combines a different element of the game. No. 1 centre Patrice Bergeron is a skilled playmaker but he is also one of the top two or three defensive centres in the NHL. Winger Brad Marchand can score but he is also one of the most notable agitators in the league, able to get under opponents’ skins with a hit or a verbal jab. On the second line, centre David Krejci handles the playmaking, Nathan Horton is the sniper and formidable Milan Lucic does the banging and as well as scoring.
The Bruins are also the best faceoff team in the league. Their top three centres – Bergeron, Krejci and Chris Kelly – are all good on the draw, the Bruins also have a number of wingers who can beat an opposing centre if their own centre is tossed out of the faceoff circle.
“Well, ideally you always like to have those options,” Julien said. “It doesn't mean you always have them but it's been great that way. We have a lot of guys that are good on draws, but not just guys that are playing center, guys that are also wingers.
“[Rich] Peverley is one of those guys that are really good on faceoffs, as well, and he plays a wing. [Tyler] Seguin is very capable, and if you've watched guys like Lucic and stuff like that, they are not bad, either. For me it's always been an important part of the game to start with the puck and by winning draws, that's exactly what happens.”
The key to beating a team that is good in so many areas and is dedicated to sticking to its system no matter what happens in a game is patience, according to Bylsma.
“It's not going to be wide open,” he said. “You're not going to break them down and get odd-man rushes. It's going to have to be a patient-type game, and they have been very good at that. We have had those types of games with them the past couple years and that's what we're expecting from them this series.”