4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Second place in Metro Division, 47-29-6
Why they can win – The Penguins enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to take home the Cup once again. That tends to happen when you’re the two-time defending champion and your team has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Derick Brassard down the middle. Those three really heated up as the season wound down, even though Brassard desalt with a groin injury. Malkin could be the league MVP, Crosby looked like Crosby and Brassard started to find his groove with his new team.
That doesn’t even count the ever popular Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and other secondary wingers. The Pens can roll three scoring lines which gives teams fits over the course of seven games. Eventually, the offense tends to win out and opposing squads can’t keep up with the waves of firepower. Crosby, Malkin and Kessel mostly play on different lines, which is a mtachup nightmare. This is a deep and experienced team with multiple Cup runs to back it up. They may not be the No. 1 favorite, but there is an argument to be made the veteran-laden team could flip the switch now that games mean the most.
Why they won’t win – The biggest deficiency in Pittsburgh is the defense. There’s been way too much noise about the bottom pair, as they won’t play as much now that the playoffs have started. The main four will be Kris Letang, Brian Doumolin, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta. Doumolin is the only one whose calling card is just being a solid defenseman. The other three all have their own issues with consistency. Having these four isn’t the worst set a team could have, but they are the “weakness” of the Penguins roster. The other weak spot for Pittsburgh is goalie if starter Matt Murray were to get hurt. If he goes down (a real possibility), Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have not shown the ability to carry a team through the postseason. Murray has a sparkling postseason history in his young career, even if he has the tendency to give up a soft goal now and then.
X Factor – Kris Letang: The Pens won the Cup without their most skilled defenseman last season, but they shouldn’t be anxious to try and replicate that feat. When he’s on his game, Letang is solid in his end and a terror on the rush and offensively. At his worst, he makes poor decisions and is like a chicken with his head cut off trying to play defense. Letang is the only defenseman capable of swinging a game in either direction every night. It’s tempting to put Matt Murray in this spot but he’s just too important to be an X factor.
First Round Matchup – Philadelphia Flyers; Pens won the regular season 4-0
If the Penguins play up to snuff, this series should be over very quickly. We’re going to find out in a hurry if they can flip the switch or not. They have the ability to win the Cup again and should outclass Philly fairly easily. They could also be their own worst enemy in this spot and blow their chances at a three-peat. It just doesn’t seem likely. There’s too much talent in Pittsburgh to go out early against this opponent.
Prediction – Penguins in 5