General manager Ray Shero is confident in the Penguins going into the Eastern Conference final.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ray Shero likes some of the parallels between his Penguins and the Boston Bruins, who will meet in the Eastern Conference final beginning tonight at Consol Energy Center.
"I think it sets up well," said Shero, the Penguins general manager.
"Peter [Chiarelli, the Bruins general manager] has been in Boston seven years; I've been here seven years. Teams have been good. They've won a Cup [in 2011]. We've won a Cup [in 2009]. Pittsburgh-Boston hasn't played [in the postseason] since '92. I'm really looking forward to the series. I think it should be a great series. It's probably good for the sport."
Better that kind of parallel than one between this postseason and the playoff frustration since the 2009 Cup run. The Penguins had not advanced to the conference final since and lost in the first round each of the past two seasons. Now, they are in the NHL's "final four." Los Angeles and Chicago are the Western Conference finalists.
The Penguins' 2012 flop in six games against Philadelphia reminded Shero to proceed with caution in the playoffs and enjoy every inch his team takes.
"Anytime you get to the third round, you have hopes to continue to the final, without getting too far ahead of ourselves and the pressure that you put on yourselves," he said Friday.
This year, the Penguins earned the No. 1 seed in the East and are a strong favorite to at least get to the Stanley Cup final, if not win it. But the first round -- a win in six games against the New York Islanders -- was no breeze.
"In the first round, you talk about underdogs and things like that when you have a 1 vs. 8 seed," Shero said. "That series was a very difficult series. Our goal -- like Boston, like L.A., like Chicago -- right now is to win four games. I'm not going to look further than that. I guess at the end of our season, whenever that is, I can look back and reflect and say, 'Was that a real great experience for us? Was that successful? Was it a disappointment?' I've learned through a few years here that I'm not going to look too far down the road."
Game 5 against the Islanders was a turning point, Shero said. The Penguins won, 4-0, to break a tie in the series, thanks at least in part to a shot in the arm from some lineup changes. The biggest one put starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun ahead of Marc-Andre Fleury. Vokoun has played every game since.
"Without having a Tomas Vokoun to go to in Game 5 of the Islanders series, I'm not sure what happens," Shero said. "I'm not sure we don't win, but I'm not sure we do. That takes that pressure off of Marc-Andre at that point in time."
Shero acquired Vokoun in June as a former starter who could be a strong complement for Fleury.
"It's somewhat surprising to some people, I guess, that he's doing well for himself," Shero said of Vokoun. "He's been one of the better goaltenders in the National Hockey League. He just happened to be playing in Nashville and Florida for a long time and not in the media spotlight."
Shero loaded up the Penguins late in the regular season, adding forwards Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Douglas Murray.
"True professionals," Shero said. "They've done exactly what we thought and hoped they could do for us on the ice, most importantly. They've fit in in the locker room. ... Good people joining good people."
There will be more moves and decisions after the season, when the June 30 draft and a free-agency period that starts July 5 come up.
Shero can't ignore that aspect of his job, even if the playoffs take some precedence.
"Our focus here is on the team," Shero said. "But part of the job -- and [assistant general manager] Jason Botterill and I spent a few hours just the other day going over this -- is [assessing] our team for next year. What do we look like? You do this every year.
"A lot of things change between now and the end of the season, now and July 5, now and the draft. Part of it is trying to plan. That's part of the job, but [we try to] not get too far ahead of ourselves."