Finally, Penguins face Bruins tonight in Game 1 of NHL semifinals

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The Penguins are not a consensus pick to defeat Boston in the Eastern Conference final.

Fact is, there are quite a few people who seem certain the Bruins will beat them in the best-of-seven series that begins at 8:10 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center and earn the right compete for the Stanley Cup later this month.

There just does not seem to be all that many of them outside of New England.

But, while it's not clear precisely what percentage of the press and public that has offered an opinion is predicting the Penguins will get through Round 3, the value the players put on a being the favorite is easy to gauge. Pretty much runs the gamut from zero to none, with some estimates ranging as high as nada and others as low as zilch.

Scouting report

  • Matchup:

    Penguins vs. Boston Bruins, 8:10 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.

  • TV, Radio:

    WPXI, WXDX-FM (105.9).

  • Probable goaltenders:

    Tomas Vokoun for Penguins. Tuukka Rask for Bruins.

  • Penguins:

    Were 3-0 vs. Bruins in regular season. ... Are tied for second in playoffs with 203 blocked shots.

  • Bruins:

    Have lost eight playoff games in a row vs. Penguins, but most recent one was in 1992.

  • Hidden stat:

    The teams account for the top four playoff scorers and six of the top nine -- David Krejci (17 points), Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, (16); Sidney Crosby (15), and Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla (12).

"At this point, it doesn't come down to who looks better on paper," Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said Friday.

Still, the fact that the Penguins are a popular choice to win the East is not one of the major upsets of 2013.

After all, they won the conference in the regular season, swept the season series against Boston and needed fewer games to get through the first two rounds, 11, than any of the other three survivors.

Oh, and their depth chart is studded with a few pretty decent talents.

Then again, although the Bruins can't match the Penguins' star power, neither did they did get into this series by slipping the bouncer a $20.

They are easily the best faceoff team in these playoffs,

Coach Claude Julien also has four lines that he is not afraid to roll and Boston's corps of defensemen can punish opposing forwards who try to make anything more than eye contact with goalie Tuukka Rask.

"The biggest thing that impresses me is that four lines, other than power play, every guy pretty much plays in every situation," Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said.

"Their defense plays a physical game, and they're a well-coached team that sticks to their system. That's what allows them to be successful."

Boston has enough high-end talent -- guys like David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Nathan Horton, among others -- that it could be quite competitive without the focus and consistent execution that have become synonymous with the Bruins during Julien's time behind the bench.

Those qualities, though, helped to make Boston a conference finalist, rather than just a good team.

"They have real discipline in how they play, in their system," Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen said. "Whether they're up or down, it's the same thing. They're really committed to playing the way their coaching staff wants them to.

"They have a lot of confidence in how they play, and what kind of team they have.

"There aren't going to be any surprises about how they play."

Chara, a perennial Norris Trophy contender, anchors the defense corps regarded by many as the Bruins' premier asset in this series. And he would be hard to overlook even if he were not 6 feet 9, and not only because he tends to be on the ice for about half the game.

He towers over the playing surface like a construction crane and, while he's more mobile than one, his defensive game is built on toughness and reach, not mobility.

Consequently, the Penguins hope to force him -- and the rest of the Boston defense, for that matter -- to chase pucks that have been shot behind him before he can begin to think about sending play toward their end of the ice.

Routinely getting the puck deep into the Boston zone means, at the least, the Bruins will expend a lot of energy to retrieve it and will have to go the better part of 200 feet to generate scoring chances.

At best, the Penguins can gain possession in the Boston zone, creating their own scoring opportunities and perhaps drawing some penalties while wearing down the Bruins defense.

"The more we can have the puck down low, the more it puts them on their heels," winger Jarome Iginla said.

"I don't think we change what we're trying to do, or what we've done the last couple of series. I think it will look pretty similar, as far as what we're trying to do."

Doing that as effectively against Boston as they did against the New York Islanders and Ottawa won't be easy, but little about this series figures to be.

The reward, however, for being the first team to reach four victories would make it worth whatever effort is required to get there.

"We recognize the challenge," Martin said. "And the opportunity we have in front of us."

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Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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