Friday, May 31, 2013
Tyler Seguin a big key for Bruins
By Joe McDonald
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Drop the puck already.
It's been a week since the Boston Bruins closed out their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers with a 3-1 win in Game 5 at TD Garden. Bruins coach Claude Julien then gave his players two days off before starting a string of practices in a span of four days that resembled training camp rather than preparation for the Eastern Conference finals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been off even longer, since last Friday after they dispatched the Ottawa Senators in five games. So now both the Bruins and Penguins are well-rested and should be prepared.
"It was good," Julien said of the team's extended rest. "The fact is we got some rest. With the days we gave the guys off, it paid off just by watching them practice. This week we had some really good practices and we accomplished what we had to accomplish, so there's definitely no excuses about not being prepared. If anything we're excited about getting going here. It's been a good week but it's been long enough. We need to get going here."
Speaking of getting going, the Bruins are hoping to see more offensive production from forward Tyler Seguin in this series. In 12 games this postseason, he has only one goal and three assists, along with a minus-2 rating.
During the regular season, Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand formed the Bruins' most consistent line. Seguin played all 48 regular-season games and provided 16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points, including a plus-23 rating.
That production has declined in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which forced Julien to tweak his lines. He moved Seguin to the team's third line with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly and inserted veteran Jaromir Jagr on the second line.
The Bergeron line has played better, but the Bruins need Seguin and his linemates (whether it's the second or third line) to produce against the highly skilled Penguins. But even though the statistics aren't there, Julien hasn't been disappointed in Seguin's game.
"I see him turning the corner, doing some good things," Julien said. "I've encouraged him to continue doing that. All players remember all of the good things they've done, so I'm sure he remembers that situations a few years ago where he came out and had, I think it was four points in one period. But he was really good. Right now for him, it's just to continue doing what he's been doing lately -- him and his line are hopefully going to be breaking out here very soon."
Once the puck drops on the Stanley Cup playoffs, the intensity and skill level increase. When asked why he's having difficulty scoring in the playoffs, Seguin realizes he's not doing enough.
"It's not easy," Seguin said. "Once you get going you stick with it, and the playoffs are when great players come out and the weak links get shown. I want to step up my game another level here for the third round and get things going."
The one thing Seguin began to do more in the last round was use his speed and crash the net instead of trying to beat defenders to the perimeter, which wasn't working. He's also been more reliable in the defensive zone.
"I like to play games with lots of speed and skill," Seguin said. "Sometimes you're playing teams where it's more grinding, even with Pittsburgh there's going to be a lot of grinding out there, but there's lots of speed out there too, and that's the main attribute to my game."
From a mental aspect, Seguin has been trying to remove himself from the game after the daily practices. During the lockout, Seguin was among 12 Bruins to play overseas; he's played a total of 89 games since September. This week's break from game action could serve him well.
"It was nice to get a breather and I'm still feeling that confidence from the last few games during practice," he said.
During his rookie season in 2010-11, Seguin was a healthy scratch for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was thrown into the mix for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning because Bergeron had suffered a concussion; he responded with a goal and an assist. He followed that up with four points (two goals, two assists) in Game 2. Even though it was two years ago, he's hoping that experience will help in this series against the Penguins.
"It'll help a lot," Seguin said. "I know what to expect and I'm just as excited as I was stepping into my first playoff game, and it just happened to be the conference final. But having more experience this time around makes me a little more calm and I'm excited to go."
Although Seguin's contributions will be important against the Penguins, here are four other keys to the series for the Bruins.
|Tyler Seguin leads the Bruins in shots on goal in the playoffs with 45.|
GOALTENDING: The Penguins are averaging 4.27 goals per game during the playoffs, which leads the league. The Bruins are second at 3.17. Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun has played great in the playoffs (6-1-1/1.85 GAA/.941 SP), but the Bruins' Tuukka Rask has played well in the playoffs too, and is prepared for the high-powered Pittsburgh offense. Both goalies are aggressive in the net and there's nothing flashy from either one. The Bruins were able to beat the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist in the last round, so they should be confident going against Vokoun.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Discipline will be a huge key for the Bruins in this series. Even though Boston has one of the best penalty-killing units in the league, Pittsburgh's power play has been astonishing in the playoffs, with a 28.3 success rating (it was 24.7 percent in the regular season). With two of the best players in the NHL in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' second power-play unit is better than most first units in the NHL. The Penguins are creative and have worked together for a long time, and they will take advantage of Boston's aggressiveness and try to create quality scoring chances.
"For a penalty kill, it really is a fine line of being aggressive and not giving them too much time, because when you give good, creative, talented players like that too much time, they're going to make plays," said Bruins penalty-killer Gregory Campbell. "Once you're aggressive on them, they can find those seams and those openings. We want to be aggressive but not careless. We don't want to give them too many holes and allow them to exploit those holes."
SHUT DOWN: Both teams have talked a lot this week about the depth in their respective lineups. While it is true for both teams, Pittsburgh's top two lines present a major challenge for Boston. Julien will attempt to have Zdeno Chara on the ice every time Crosby is out there, but with the first two games of this series in Pittsburgh, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma will have the advantage of the last change. The Bruins' young defensive core of Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski will be tested early and often.
COACHING: Julien (2011) and Bylsma (2009) have each won Stanley Cup titles, but the Bruins have the edge behind the bench with Julien. Boston has bought into his system and it's obviously been successful, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs.