If you're wondering why I did not have any scoring chances posted from the last round, it's a long story. I'll just say that I've had a limited amount of spare time the last few weeks and was not able to post any analysis of the second round. Despite that minor setback, I should be back in full force for the Conference Finals and will provide a closer look at the underlying stats from every game. Robert from the Kings SB Nation Blog, Jewels From the Crown will be taking care of the Western Conference matchup, so I will be predominately focus on the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins.
As some of you might remember, I tracked the scoring chances from the Pens first round matchup against the Islanders and for the majority of that series, they were outplayed at even strength. One of the main reasons why they were able to advance past New York in six games is because the Islanders got a tragic performance out of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but another big reason was the Penguins deceisviely winning the special teams battle. In that series alone, the Pens scored seven goals with the man advantage and their power play was clicking at almost 30% heading into last night's game. In my preview of this series, I mentioned that while the Bruins might be a superior even strength team, they were going to have to slow down this Penguins power play to have a chance and last night, they were able to do just that. Keep in mind that "slow down" and "shut down" are two different things and what the Bruins did to the Pens power play last night falls under the former category.
Boston was able to kill off all four of Pittsburgh's power plays, but a large part of that was due to the play of goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped all eight of Pittsburgh's power play scoring chances. Since the Bruins were able to survive that, they could focus more on dictating the play at even strength and they were able to do just that, especially in the third period. The Bruins may have gotten outchanced 21-17 overall, but they had a 14-12 edge at even strength and the fact that they were able to blank the Pens on the power play ended up being one of the key deciding factors in this game.
After the jump, we'll take a closer look at what went right for the Bruins in their 3-0 win as well as what went wrong for the Penguins.
Note: Pittsburgh's chances are in black & the Bruins chances are in yellow.
This had the potential to turn into a special teams battle with each team spending a combined 16 minutes on the power play, but the Penguins not converting on any of their power play chances allowed the Bruins to win this game at even strength, which is exactly what they did. All three goals of their goals came during five-on-five play and they were able to shut down the Penguins in the third period by allowing only one scoring chance in the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Bruins had the edge in scoring chances, but I think this game was a little more even than the final score indicates. Rask was able to bail his team out of a few tough situations, especially early in the game and the Penguins also failed to capitalize on many of the Bruins mistakes. At the other end, Tomas Vokoun let in a pretty soft goal to David Krejci on the Bruins first scoring chance of the game and the Pens were forced to climb an uphill battle after that despite having a pretty big advantage in scoring chances up until that point. I don't want to say that Rask "stole" this win for the Bruins since they outchance Pittsburgh at even strength & gave him three goals in support, but I'm not sure if the Bruins win this game if Rask hadn't played as well as he did in the first two periods. He was simply outstanding and gave Boston some breathing room before they took over.
As for Pittsburgh's goalie situation, I wouldn't freak out too much over Vokoun's performance. Werethe first two goals he let in weak? Absolutely. Did Pittsburgh get out-goaltended? Yes, but he wasn't the main reason the Penguins lost this game and the Pens are going to be in trouble if they rely on goaltending to win this series. Instead of pointing fingers at Vokoun, there are a lot of of other players who could share the blame for this loss.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Tyler Kennedy +5
Worst EV Forward: Sidney Crosby -4
Best EV Defenseman: Douglas Murray +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Paul Martin -5
The Penguins top guns all performed well on the power play, but they were all a disaster at even strength when it came to defensive play. I thought Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Kunitz were good when it came to creating chances both at even strenght and on the power play, and they were. The only problem was they gave up just as much, if not more, in their own zone during five-on-five play. With the talent this team has, it's generally not a good sign when third and fourth liners are the only players in the black.
As bad as the forwards were at even strength, the defense might have been worse and the Penguins blue-liners were also making some horrific mistakes both with and without the puck. The Bruins second goal came immediately after a bad defensive zone turnover by Mark Eaton and Kris Letang trying to play the rebound like an outfielder did'n't help matters. These two had a rough game all around, as did Paul Martin, who was destroyed by the Krejci line. I would say that Pittsburgh should consider changing up their defense corps, but Bylsma did shake things up towards the end of the game and the Penguins worst defensive play came when they had a new defense pairing on the ice.
About eight minutes into the third period, Bylsma had a pairing of Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen on the ice against a broken line combination of the Bruins featuring teir two first line wingers with Gregory Campbell centering them. Niskanen had just turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the Bruins went ther way to create a quick shot in transition. This shot ended up bouncing off Niskanen and going to the corner to the left of the goaltender and was retrieved by Campbell. Both Penguin defensemen along with the low forward, Evgeni Malkin, decided to follow Campbell & the puck, which resulted in this Kodak moment right here.
PIttsburgh wasn't aggressive enough on the puck and it allowed Campbell to make a pass to Lucic at the side of the net for a scoring chance and Nathan Horton was able to tap in the rebound for an easy goal. Mental mistakes like this genreally burn teams late in games and this is what happened to the Penguins here. A lot of the errors I saw on Pittsburgh's side were related to mental mistakes rather than skill, so I don't think this is anything they can't shake off and overcome. The Bruins played a very strong game, though and had a lot of standouts at even strength.
Bruins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Brad Marchand +5
Worst EV Forward: Tyler Seguin -5
Best EV Defenseman: Dennis Seidenberg +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Torey Krug -3
While Pittsburgh's top-six struggled to get a lot going at even strength, Boston's put on a clinic. Their first line technically produced all three goals with Krejci scoring a pair, Bergeron's line dominated Crosby's and they all played terrific defensively on top of that. Bergeron's line surrendered only one scoring chance the entire game and saw some terrific play out of Jaromir Jagr, who had four total scoring chances. It's almost a shame that he doesn't have a goal because he looked like one of Boston's best players last night and was one of their most active offensively. I think most know that he is playing well, though despite not getting rewarded for it. Really, just about everyone except for Boston's third line played well. The Seguin-Kelly-Peverley trio were inexplicably terrible defensively but other than that, it was nearly a flawless game at even strength for the B's forwards.
The Bruins defense corps also did their job in limiting Pittsburgh's top forwards with Chara & Seidenberg having a very strong game in particular. Their defensive game was not the best and they were a tad carless with the puck but both came away net positives by a pretty big margin in the end. Andrew Ference also had a solid game in his return to the lineup, playing very well against Pittsburgh's first line.
The only area I would be concerned about for the Bruins is the penalty kill, as their second unit got absolutely lit up. The Penguins are not going to come away empty handed the next time if the Bruins keep allowing so many chances on the PK and they are somewhat lucky they managed to come out of those stretches without allowing a goal.
Dan Bylsma seemed content with letting Crosby play against the Bergeron line and having Malkin face-off against Krejci for this game, but I could easily see this changing for Game 2. After how well Bergeron's line played last night and how poor the Kelly line did, it wouldn't shock me if Bylsma tries to get Crosby or Malkin out against that trio while he has the last change. How good was Bergeron against Crosby, though? At even strength, it's hard to do a better job of containing a star player.
Head to Head at Five-on-Five
The Bruins top-six beat Pittsburgh's to a pulp at even strength and Chara/Seidenberg also took care of Crosby's line. I could see Bylsma switching up the matchups to get Crosby or Malkin out against Boston's third line more often because they did not play well and it might be wise to keep one of these two away from Bergeron. I'm not sure what he can do to keep them away from Chara since Julien usually does a good job of keeping him out there against both first and second lines. Another thing Bylsma should consider is making sure Eaton doesn't see the ice against the Krejci line. The entire defense played poorly against them, but Eaton in particular was crushed and I have to think that one of Niskanen or Murray would be a better option to pair with Letang.