Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen made a phone call this week to his little brother.
The hope was to glean a tip or two from Juho Jokinen, who played with Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask on Team Finland at the world Junior Championships in 2006.
"I tried to ask if he remembers anything. Any weak spots?" said Jokinen, with a smile.
The answers weren't exactly plentiful.
Rask is basking in his first Stanley Cup playoff run as Boston's starter and has led the Bruins to the Eastern Conference final, which opened Saturday night against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. He had a 2.22 goals-against average and .928 save percentage heading into the series.
"He had a great tournament [in 2006] and had some 50 saves one game, so [he] didn't have too many weaknesses back then," said the Penguins' Jokinen.
Jokinen has followed his countryman's career and believed he could have been a starting goalie had he not come up behind Tim Thomas when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
"He's got a chance to be a No. 1 now and he's showing everybody how good he is," said Jokinen.
He expects the two will get more acquainted on the ice during this series.
"Finland is not too big of a country, so I have met him a few times," said Jokinen. "I never played on the same team but obviously follow everything. He's a great goalie, and I hope he's going to be a pretty good goalie in the future. But not this series."
Ference recalls Crosby fight
A few days ago, Penguins center Sidney Crosby recalled his first NHL fight, Dec. 20, 2007, against Boston defenseman Andrew Ference, saying he was lucky because he didn't realize beforehand that Ference had some toughness.
"I think he's being very favorable there," Ference said Saturday. "It was a nice, good, short fight and probably good for me that it ended the way it did. He's a competitive player, one of the most competitive players in the league."
Crosby also had a goal and two assists in that game, and he joked that it will probably end up being his only Gordie Howe hat trick (fight, goal, assist).
Asked if that gave him a place in history, Ference smiled.
"Uh, a trivial pursuit question?" he said. "That's about it for me.
"I'm still waiting for a signed picture."
Ference, a former Penguin, returned to the Boston lineup Saturday night. He had been out because of an undisclosed injury since Game 4 of the first round. Asked about his status before the game, Ference declined to offer any clues.
"That's not my call," he said. "The only player that gets to make that choice was Mario [Lemieux, Penguins Hall of Famer] when he was playing."
Neal takes delay in stride
Few, if any, of the Penguins were pleased about being off between May 24, when they wrapped up their second-round series against Ottawa, and Game 1 Saturday night against the Bruins.
It would have been understandable, though, if right winger James Neal would have been more upset about the extended break than his teammates.
After all, he bounced back from a slow start in these playoffs to score five goals in the final two games against Ottawa.
Nonetheless, Neal seemed to take the scheduling in stride when the subject came up Saturday.
"It's a different series," he said. "Ottawa's done. That series is behind us. We have a whole new challenge here in Boston, a totally different team.
"You want to keep doing the same things [as against the Senators]: Shoot the puck, go to the net, put the puck behind [the defensemen] and wear [them] down. Do all the things we did against Ottawa."
Crosby called his team's game-day skate "normal," but there was an air of relief and excitement after an eight-day gap between games.
Coach Dan Bylsma likened it to the day of the playoffs opener.
Defenseman Douglas Murray was champing at the bit.
"It's more of a mental relief that we're going to start playing," he said. "It's been a long time waiting for a game. I don't think I've had a break this long ever in my career."
Making himself at home
Bruins rookie defenseman Matt Bartkowski, a Mt. Lebanon native, is part of a growing line of players from Western Pennsylvania to reach the NHL, but he doesn't consider his journey typical.
"I took a way different path," he said. "I stayed at home and finished high school at home. Kids now are gone when they're 15, playing in junior or the [USA Hockey] national development program."
A 2007 seventh-round draft pick by Florida who was later traded to Boston, Bartkowski played two years at Ohio State before turning pro.
He had dinner with his mother Friday after the Bruins arrived in town. Bartkowski said he gave out a few dinner recommendations to the team's public relations staff, but, after the visit with his mother, focused on the series.
"It's all about the game," he said.
Bartkowski, however, lost his spot in the lineup to Ference.
Hartzell still 'a student'
Eric Hartzell, the former Quinnipiac goaltender who signed with the Penguins as a free agent after leading his team to the NCAA title game, earned a degree in marketing a few weeks ago.
Now, he's working toward a post-graduate one in playing pro hockey by being around and practicing with the Penguins daily. On game nights, though, he's no more than an interested onlooker.
"I've basically just been a sponge, learning and trying to get as much information as I can to make myself a better person and a better hockey player," Hartzell said.
"It's just amazing. You look around the [locker] room at some of the guys in here. You have [Marc-Andre] Fleury, you have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin.
"There are no better role models than those guys. Just being able to see how they present themselves on a daily basis and go about their business as a professional, it's just awesome that I'm able to see that and, hopefully, learn from that."
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @jennmenendez Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 2, 2013 4:30 AM