If the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs started Saturday, the Boston Bruins would be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Wild Card round.
Instead, the two teams will face each other in Pittsburgh at 3:10 p.m. ET tomorrow in the ESPN+/ABC Game of the Week. Still though, are Sidney Crosby and the Penguins just an automatic win for the newly crowned 2022-23 Presidents’ Trophy winners?
We asked National Hockey Now colleague and Pittsburgh Hockey Now captain Dan Kingerski if the Pittsburgh Penguins could pull off what would be a monster and historic first round upset?
“The Penguins have beaten the Bruins for 50 minutes in each of their first two meetings,” Kingerski replied in a text Friday. “Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still more than point-per-game players, but the Penguins have lost nine games when leading after two periods If they replace their third period yips with the swagger of an experienced two-time Stanley Cup winner, and get some timely goaltending, they could be a very tough out.”
Boston Bruins fans may not like to read this, but this puck scribe agrees. If you’ve been watching the Penguins’ roller coaster ride as they’ve tried to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s been two constants for the Penguins over the past months. Crosby had four goals and nine assists in 15 games over the past month, and Malkin had two goals and 13 assists in March. He also enters the game with the Boston Bruins on Saturday riding a three-game point streak with a goal and three assists over that span.
Now that being said, let’s take a look at how the two team matched up in the ? games they played this season:
The Boston Bruins erased a 5-3 third period deficit and beat the Penguins 6-5 in overtime on Nov. 1 in Pittsburgh. They then erased a 1-0 third period deficit in the Jan. 2 Winter Classic at Fenway Park with two goals from winger Jake DeBrusk, who was playing on a broken leg.
Tristan Jarry left the Winter Classic in the first period, and didn’t return. Since then he’s never been the same and backup Casey DeSmith has been average at best. Jarry enters Saturday’s game at 22-10-6 with a 2.90 GAA and a .910 save percentage. DeSmith is 14-16-4 with a dismal 3.20 GAA and a .904 save percentage.
On the Bruins side, goalie Linus Ullmark is having an historic season and is a lock for the 2023 Vezina Trophy. Ullmark leads the NHL in wins (37), GAA (1.88), and in save percentage (.938). Meanwhile, his 1B, Jeremy Swayman is 20-6-4 with a 2.21 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
The Bruins have one of the best blue lines in the NHL with the 1-2 punch of Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm. Up front, they’re as deep as they come with easily the best top six forward group in the NHL in Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Jake DeBrusk, and Pavel Zacha-David Krejci-David Pastrnak, who has a team-leading 53 goals.
When all is said and done, yes, Crosby, Malkin and the Penguins could make it a series, but if this series went six or seven games, the Bruins goaltending and depth would prevail.
Prediction: Bruins in 5