In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul and Joshua Neal will publish email conversations periodically discussing a time-sensitive topic.

Matt Paul: Josh, just a few weeks back, many fans — myself included — wondered if the Penguins would be able to escape the first round, let alone advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Now, the Penguins are just eight wins away from the Stanley Cup.
So, looking ahead to the upcoming series, how do the Penguins stack up against the Bruins. Are we looking at an Islanders-like team or one that’s more similar to the Senators?

Joshua Neal: The Bruins are a bit of their own breed, but if I had to draw a comparison I’d say that they’re a more experienced, mature, defensively sound version of the Senators. They don’t have the frustrating speed that the Islanders had, and they may not even have the same amount of speed as the Senators and their young lineup.

What the Bruins lack in speed, though, they make up for in size and discipline. The Bruins are probably the most positionally sound team in the NHL, and they boast one of the largest defensive lineups in the game.

The extended break will give blueliners like Wade Redden, Dennis Seidenberg, and Andrew Ference time to heal up. And they’ll need it, going against the red hot Penguins, who all of the sudden have won 6 out of 7 with an aberrant double overtime loss in a game they should have won anyway.

This has the potential to be an incredibly physical series. Does that aspect of the game worry you after the Senators series went so quickly and without many shakeups? Or do Dan Bylsma and the Penguins have the answers to the Bruins’ size and grit?

Matt: Let’s take a look at the Penguins under Shero. When he first arrived, his stamp was to make the team gritty and difficult to play against. Mission accomplished. But after the Stanley Cup Championship 2008-09 season, the team got a bit easier to play against and, subsequently, didn’t have as much success.

Flash forward to 2013. Shero has, once again, built a team that isn’t fun to play against. Sure, the Penguins are loaded with skill, but they also have plenty of sandpaper, courage, and flat out physicality. They’ve regained their identity, and it’s one that should match up just fine against the Bruins’ size and grit.

Knowing that the Penguins can and will match up physically with the Bruins, how do you think they match up otherwise, Josh? You mentioned a healing blueline corps that is loaded with experience; can they handle the Penguins’ historically strong offensive outburst? What about the other way around? Can the Penguins’ defense contain Boston’s interesting mix of speedy, gritty, and experienced forwards?

Josh: I think that this series will come down to what the Bruins are able to do on offense rather than what the Penguins put together on offense. I firmly believe that with the combination of skill, speed, and timely scoring that the Penguins have, they will come by their goals. The Bruins have a few forwards that offer a few of the things you mention individually, but there really isn’t a James Neal or Jarome Iginla type player on that roster that makes me worry.

Tyler Seguin has had a rough first two series of the playoffs, and he could be a problem if he wakes up – he has just one goal in two series but scored 3 against the Penguins in 3 games against them in the regular season. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron will be pesky and will probably draw (and take) their fair share of penalties. But I think when you look at this Bruins’ group of forwards, no one is outstandingly great or outstandingly bad. The Penguins defense has gotten increasingly better positionally, and they were able to amend their turnover problem after a dreadful Isles series.

I think that the Penguins have an edge in just about everything with the small exception of goaltending. It’s hard to knock anything Vokoun has done this postseason, but Tuukka Rask has also been very good. He has the potential to steal a game or two, just like Anderson did in the Ottawa series in Game 3.

It always seems to come down to the intangibles at this stage of it all – all the remaining teams are so talented. Special teams and composure could play a large role in this one too. Right, Matt?

Matt: There’s no question the Penguins hold the edge in offense and Boston holds the edge in goaltending, while both teams share a similar caliber defense corps. So, as you said, Josh, it likely can and will come down to who performs best on the special teams.

Pittsburgh has clicked at an astounding 28.3 percent (first) on the power play this playoff year, while Boston has been average (by playoff standards) on the penalty kill, successful 81.1 percent of the time (eighth). On the power play, Boston has scored a respectable 21.9 percent of the time (fifth), while Pittsburgh has killed 89.7 percent of penalties (third).

If this series comes down to special teams, as we both agree it will, there’s no question Pittsburgh holds a dominant advantage, both on the power play and penalty kill.

Josh, now that we’ve dissected the overall advantages for each team, who do you perceive to be the players to watch on both sides?

Josh: To me, Matt, the players to watch against Boston are the ones that might normally always be names brought up in black and gold – but for different reasons. Milan Lucic struggled all regular season, was even demoted to the fourth line for several games and healthy scratched in a few others. Tyler Seguin is a dynamic goal scorer who has played 12 games this playoffs and scored just one time. He scores in bunches and if he starts seeing the puck go in, it could be dangerous.

To me, Sidney Crosby right now is the best player in the world, playing some of the best hockey we’ve ever had the privilege to see. He’s going to get done what he’s going to get done. If Boston chooses to split up Chara and Seidenberg, Evgeni Malkin instantly becomes a player to watch. Heck, even if they don’t split them up, Malkin is the matchup problem because Chara and his partner can’t (sustainably) play 30 minutes a night against Crosby. Jarome Iginla will be a lightning rod with the controversy surrounding his eventual arrival in Pittsburgh. As always, I’ll continue my infatuation with Brandon Sutter. I think what he can do against Krejci dictates how this series can go. He had a huge game in the comeback win against Boston, and I have a feeling this is just going to be a Sutter type of series we’ve got brewing.


Matt: Pens in 6
Josh: Pens in 5