Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins to begin Eastern Conference final Saturday


March 17, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jay Pandolfo (29) breaks up ice with the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (18) poke checks him from behind during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Temperatures are climbing into the 80s this week, but for Pittsburgh sports fans it feels a lot more like fall than late spring, with the Pittsburgh Penguins playing a schedule more befitting the NFL’s Steelers.

The NHL announced late Tuesday night that the Penguins’ upcoming Eastern Conference final matchup against the Boston Bruins will begin Saturday night at Consol Energy Center, with an NBC television audience bearing witness. The weekend start means Pittsburgh (seven days) and Boston (six) will face a football-like gap between games, as opposed to the one- or two-day breaks hockey players are accustomed to.

Rest is valuable in the Stanley Cup playoffs, so you won’t hear anyone with either team publicly complaining about the extended hiatus. The time off is a deserved reward for the Penguins and Bruins eliminating their second-round opponents (Senators and Rangers, respectively) in five games.

The athletes will likely be clamoring for another off-day or two once the East final does get started, as the NHL has slated an every-other-day schedule for the first six games of the best-of-seven series. Furthermore, if the Pens and B’s need all seven to decide matters, Games 6 and 7 will be contested on back-to-back days – Tuesday, June 11 and Wednesday, June 12.

This is the Penguins’ second series this postseason that has had Games 6 and 7 scheduled within 24 hours of each other; their first-round matchup with the Islanders featured an identical setup. Blame the lockout and its season-delaying effects for the abnormal playoff layout.

Nevertheless, it comes down to this in the Penguins-Bruins series: both teams will be similarly primed for Game 1 on Saturday at 8 p.m. There are plenty of worthy storylines for this much-anticipated series, but the waiting isn’t one of them.

**Note: After Saturday, the rest of the series can be seen on NBC Sports Network in the United States and on the CBC in Canada.