Eastern Conference Preview- Pittsburgh vs. Boston

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Eastern Conference Final Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Boston Bruins

    As we come down the home stretch in the playoffs, the matchups are becoming much tighter and the stakes are much higher. Every team remaining in the postseason has won a Stanley Cup within the last four years, so the experience is there. On Saturday night, the Penguins and Bruins will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh, and it should be one hell of a series. The big bad Bruins will try and impose their will on the skilled Penguins, and the Penguins will try and make the Bruins play defense constantly. Let’s take a look at some of the top storylines to watch in this series.

1. Style vs. Style

This is going to be a series of clashing styles, as the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey that sees them send a lot of traffic to the opposition’s net, while the Penguins play a puck possession game in which they want to spend as much time as possible making their opponents play in their defensive zone. Whichever team can establish the style of play that they want faster than the other will have a distinct advantage.

2. The Crosby Effect

It’s a widely accepted fact that the Penguins possess the best player on this planet in Sidney Crosby. Stopping Crosby is nearly impossible, so the best most teams can hope for is to slow him down, and the Bruins will look to do just that. The dilemma that the Bruins face will be how to do it. You can be assured that Zdeno Chara will be in between Crosby and Crosby’s shadow every shift. But Chara has looked tired and a step slow throughout these playoffs, so the Bruins will probably have perennial Selke contender Patrice Bergeron out against Crosby along with Chara on every shift. Enter the Crosby Effect:with your best defensive forward and defenseman out against Crosby, who will be matched up against James Neal,  Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang? The Bruins will have to “pick their poison” so to speak as to which line they want to take their chances with. If I were a betting man, I’d say Bergeron and Chara shadow Crosby, and the Bruins will be comfortable with the Nathan Horton-David Krejci-Milan Lucic line to outduel the Neal-Malkin-Iginla combo.

3. Keep Your Cool

Perhaps the biggest key to the series for both teams will be discipline. Because the Bruins like to play a physical brand of hockey, they may be able to goad the Penguins into taking some bad after-whistle and frustration penalties. Malkin and Neal both struggled with this during the regular season. Conversely, because of the skill and speed of the Penguins mixed with their ability to mix it up a little as well, the Bruins will have to watch the hooking and holding penalties. Both teams want to stay out of the box because both teams have been very good, if not great, on the power play this postseason, Likewise, neither team has been overwhelming on the penalty kill. Discipline is a sign of a well-coached team, and both coaches are in the top tier of coaches in this league. Limiting the opponents’ special teams play will also be important as both teams like to roll all four lines to get into the groove of the game. Chances are whoever scores the most special teams goals will win this series.

4. Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending

If you have read any hockey article on TheCover4, you’ll probably notice that we believe goaltending to be the biggest factor in any NHL game, and this series will be no different. Quietly, Tomas Vokoun has posted a 6-1 record in this year’s playoffs, with a .941 save percentage, trailing only Jonathan Quick in that department. However, many will give the goaltending advantage to the Bruins and Tuukka Rask. Like every other aspect of each of these two teams, it is very close. Rask has been very good for the Bruins all year, and it is clear that he is their guy between the pipes. On the other end of the rink, you have the aforementioned Vokoun, who took over for the embattled Cup-winning Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the Penguins’ first-round series against the Islanders. Vokoun has been good when called upon, but questions still remain about how long his leash is should he falter a bit. You know Fleury is biding his time and wants to get back in as soon as possible, but which Fleury will the Penguins get if that time comes? The Fleury of their ’09 Cup run? Or the Fleury of the ’12 Flyers series? Hopefully for Pittsburgh fans, they won’t have to find out, and Vokoun will keep up with his solid play.

5. Emotion

Hockey is a very emotional sport and there will be many emotions flowing throughout this series. Both Pittsburgh’s ConsolEnergyCenter and Boston’s TD Garden are tough venues for visiting teams. With Boston still recovering from the tragic Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent craziness that ensued, the city has rallied behind the Bruins, and the Bruins have reflected the sentiment by wearing “Boston Strong” decals during games and police, fire and armed forces clothing in their postgame interviews. While I’m sure it is not their main motivation, never underestimate that little extra motivation. In addition to that, the Boston players will surely want to make Iginla see the error of his trade deadline choice to nix a trade to Boston, in order to be dealt to Pittsburgh where he felt was his best chance to meet Lord Stanley. In addition to Iginla seeking his first Cup, the Penguins also feature the likes of Neal, Douglas Murray, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Vokoun  and Brandon Sutter all looking for their first Cup victory, so the hunger will still be there for the Pens. Once we get into this series, I am sure you will see some very intense, emotional hockey played.

Who Ya Takin’?

From early into this season, many have been eyeing a Bruins-Penguins Eastern Conference Finals. They have been the two best teams all year in the East and have past experience to help them. Many picture this series going seven games. While at first glance it looks like an even match-up, the Penguins just seem to edge the Bruins in nearly every department: depth, speed, skill, scoring. But the two departments that the Bruins are at least their equal, if not superior, are goaltending and physicality. Luckily for the Bruins, those are two huge departments. As Ottawa showed against Pittsburgh, a good goalie can steal at least one game single handedly. Unfortunately for the Bruins, Craig Anderson in Ottawa is better than Rask, and Rask has yet to see an offensive dynamo like the Penguins. I just don’t think that the Bruins have the players to get it done. The Penguins skill and puck possession will be the difference in this series.

Penguins in 6.

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Pat Davis
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10 Amazing Events That Sports Fans Need

Undoubtedly there are many concepts that we all wish could be implemented in or a sport or to a team. Whether it’s a pitching staff or a foresome that could be assembled to witness just once. With the  ongoing comparison between Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, we wish we could have seem them play against  each other during their respective primes.

Those kinds of drastic time-altering dreams will not be presented in this list, but ideas are formed from present athletes and current rules. For example, we all have our aspirations, but this list will present ideas such as the elimination of the NFL’s salary cap. Now that is one thing this guy totally disagrees with, but it is just one variation that could be presented.

Keeping true to form, we will not be falling into the ESPN trap of a MJ comeback at 50.  Don’t get me started on that one.

Now the odds of one of these occurring are as real as Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, but here we go….

10. Alex Ovechkin & Sidney Crosby Fight

Just once please.

We know you both hate each other and Ovechkin would probably win the fight, but just drop the gloves once.  Hockey needs the publicity anyway.

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9. Someone Breaking Cal Ripken Jr.’s Consecutive Game Streak

In the modern era of sitting out for a minor hamstring strain, it would be refreshing for someone to even come close to the length of Cal or Brett Favre’s consecutive games started streak.

Do you love the game?

Play the game with pride and don’t be a pansy.

 

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8. Just One Professional Team in Las Vegas

If Oklahoma City can have Kevin Durant, can Las Vegas at least have a MLS team?

The constant gambling is in question, but if an athlete wanted to gamble there are so many bookies and online resources for him or her to do so. I doubt they would walk into a casino sports book.

UNLV athletics do not suffice anymore in the Sin City! Anthony Bennett can’t even carry that overrated team.

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7. NCAA Penalty Standards

As of right now, there is no standard or structure of repercussions for infractions violating the NCAA rules.  Punishments have varied drastically from USC to Ohio State, even letting the person in violation (Terrelle Pryor) play in a bowl game.  Money talks, huh?

The recent tipping point of this is the University of Miami case, but what really set this off was the Penn State debacle.  Key members within the administration and athletic department are a part of a criminal case, but the NCAA penalized the current and future players of the Penn State football program who had no control over their administration.  This would not only be amazing, but is essential.

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6. Every Athlete Takes Performance Enhancing Drugs

If all athletes “misremembered” and took steroids it would be outstanding.  Who didn’t enjoy Mark McGwire’s home run derby show at Fenway Park?  Are you more upset at Lance Armstrong for taking PEDs or making us interested in cycling for a decade?

Let Kevin Durant bulk up and dominate even more.

To quote Daniel Tosh, “I want my sports like my video games; athletes hate life after sports anyway”.

kobelebron

5. NBA One-on-One Tournament

We just witnessed the recent decline of the slam dunk contest in the NBA and it is almost getting to a point where we are running out of ideas.

With that, let us step it up a notch and initiate an inaugural one-on-one single elimination tournament.   Kobe may have blocked Lebron at the end of the All-Star game, but can he do that up to 11 and win by two?  There can be arguments for each way, but let us get this settled.

Have Kyrie Irving back up his USA summer camp talk to Kobe and reveal Carmelo’s true defensive weaknesses to the world.

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4. The Top College Football Team Play the Worst NFL Team

Every year there are those clowns and trolls who profess statements such as, “Alabama could beat the Jacksonville Jaguars.”  It is time to put these questions to rest.   Alabama has at most 15 players on its roster that may eventually play in the NFL, and possibly a third of that 15 will be top quality.

Let us assume a corner (Dee Milliner), two offensive linemen (Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones), a running back (Eddie Lacy), and a linebacker (Nico Johnson) will be impactful in the NFL in the future.   Alabama has five true NFL players, while the Jaguars have 22 to field a starting offense and defense.  The only thing Alabama has on the Jaguars is A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend.

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3. Baseball in the Olympics

Saying the World Baseball Classic is a bust has become an understatement.

It is too close to the regular season and all organizations are too worried to send their stars.  If and when baseball is re-entered into the summer Olympics, I implore the United States to bring as much enthusiasm as the World Cup into that.

When R.A. Dickey and Ryan Vogelsong are our aces, instead of a rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, C.C. Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw and Matt Cain, there is a major problem.
Take a look at our daunting roster this year:

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130117&content_id=41000908

The American outfield could be entirely represented from the city of Los Angeles with Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp.

The list goes on.

Let’s show the world that the United States is still the most dominating country when it comes to baseball.

 

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2. Lebron James, Usain Bolt, and Calvin Johnson in a Receiving Core

 We have Bolt at 6 foot 6, Lebron at 6 foot 8 and Megatron at 6′ foot 5 . Put Lebron at tight end and think not of Antonio Gates, but Lebron James!

Calvin Johnson runs a 4.32 40-yard dash, and James could most likely run in the 4.5 range.

Now Bolt, seriously, who is covering him? Yes, get a bump off the line but if not, he is gone.

We see the ease of the goal-line fade with Brandon Marshall and Andre Johnson, which now goes to Lebron James, who makes that easier than an alley-oop in lob city.

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1. All of America’s Athletes Play Soccer

The world is captivated by Ronaldo’s ball skills and Messi’s quickness, but imagine if our finely-tuned athletes such as Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson and Kyrie Irving were trained from infancy to play soccer.

Our nation would be at the top of the world. All other nations emphasize soccer as their game.

England plays soccer and rugby. Argentina and Brazil are top-notch soccer nations.

Unfortunately, there is such a selection of athletics to play in this country that soccer is not nearly a priority due to the lack of popularity, exposure and money.  A kid cannot not “be like Mike” if he is playing soccer.

Calvin Johnson in the box for a corner? Sounds good to me.

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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

Oh yeah, tell your friends too!

Long Island Sound
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
http://www.facebook.com/thecover4
http://www.twitter.com/thecover4

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