Key matchup for Penguins vs. Boston? Try Crosby vs. Bergeron

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Patrice Bergeron is one of the premier faceoff men in the NHL.

He's a pretty consistent point-producer, too.

And, arguably, the game's finest defensive forward.

All of which explains why Bergeron widely is regarded as one of hockey's top two-way centers.

And why Sidney Crosby of the Penguins might well see a lot of him in the Eastern Conference final against Boston, which will begin with Game 1 at 8 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

Eastern Conference finals

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals begins at 8 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center. See the rest of the best-of-seven series schedule.

Bruins coach Claude Julien hasn't divulged the personnel matchups he will seek and, because Penguins center Evgeni Malkin missed all three regular-season games against Boston, there isn't much recent precedent for whom he and Crosby should anticipate facing in this series.

For now, though, it's reasonable to believe Julien will look to have Bergeron and his linemates, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr, on the ice as much as possible when Crosby's there.

It also is possible that oversized defenseman Zdeno Chara, with or without Dennis Seidenberg as his partner, will draw some damage-control duty against Crosby, although reports out of Boston Tuesday suggested that the Chara-Seidenberg tandem is more likely to go against Malkin's line.

Of course, Crosby won't have to worry about which Boston defensemen are assigned to neutralize him until he gets into the Boston end, and, if he's matched against Bergeron, making it there won't be easy.

Bergeron won the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward in 2012 and is a finalist again this season. If there is a significant flaw in his game, no one appears to have detected it yet.

"He obviously takes a lot of pride in faceoffs, but he's also pretty committed to playing both ends of the ice," Crosby said

"Defensively, he's strong, so you have to make sure you work for your chances and offensively, he's able to create stuff. They've got a pretty good offensive line there, so you have to make sure you're not giving them too much, either."

Bergeron's greatest strength might be his ability to control faceoffs.

He led the NHL by winning 62.1 percent of his draws in the regular season and has bumped that up to 63.5 percent in the playoffs.

That's important, because it's tough for the Penguins, or anyone else, to play a puck-possession game when they don't possess the puck.

Crosby, it should be noted, has turned himself into a pretty good faceoff man, as well.

He won 54.3 percent of his draws before suffering a broken jaw March 30, although his success rate has slipped to 51.4 percent in the postseason. Whether the protective bar that was on his helmet for Rounds 1 and 2 contributed to that decline isn't clear, but it was removed a few days ago.

That can only be a plus for Crosby, because taking faceoffs against Bergeron is a monumental challenge under even the most ideal circumstances.

"You just have to be ready to compete every single faceoff," Crosby said.

"Not that you don't [otherwise], but you really have to bear down and make sure everyone is on the same page and look for help from [linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz].

"There will be some 50-50 pucks that, by the end of the game, will make a big difference, as far as puck possession."

Crosby, a left-hander, said he will be trying to win faceoffs outright against right-handed Bergeron rather than settle for creating those 50-50 pucks that a teammate could claim, but added that he expects a lot of draws to be less than conclusive.

"When we're [both] going to our strong side, a lot of pucks may be 50-50," he said. "It will be more important for the guys around us to help."

Chara, 6 feet 9, 255 pounds, might be able to corral unclaimed pucks off a faceoff anywhere on the ice, even if he's sitting on the bench.

That's because there are commercial airliners with less wingspan than he has; give Chara a stick for each hand, and he just might be able to touch both sides of the rink simultaneously.

"His size is obvious, and he's physical, but it's more his reach [that makes playing against him difficult]," Crosby said.

"Typically, you have some open ice in those areas [in the attacking zone], and now you're looking at a stick, a stick-on-puck or a stick that's within reach."

When Chara and Seidenberg are together, they might be the most physical pairing in the league.

"They're physical, big guys who are strong on the puck," Crosby said.

"When it comes to one-on-one battles, they're there to compete.

"You have to be engaged when you're playing against them, ready to compete. But that doesn't change anything. We know that's how we're going to get our chances, by competing."

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Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published May 29, 2013 4:15 AM


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