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Join Date: Oct 2004
Potential playoff matchups for the pens..
* Montreal - The Habs are #1 on my list of teams I’d rather not face. They’ve got a level of chemistry, albeit without a high level of offensive firepower outside of Alex Kovalev, that makes them very dangerous. They’ve had a couple of significant injuries lately to Mike Komisarek and Saku Koivu, but it appears that those players would return before any potential matchup with the Penguins. They’ve got a simply outstanding powerplay, very fluid, quick passing and accurate shooters. And don’t forget about playing in Montreal. There’s just something about playing up there with that rabid crowd that makes the Habs take their play up a notch. So if the Pens and Habs meet up, most likely it’ll be in the Eastern Conference finals, and that would be an outstanding series.
* Carolina - Even though the Pens have a better record by ten points, the Carolina Hurricanes are one team that seemingly has the Pens’ number, especially in Raleigh. The Penguins are 4-7-1 against the Canes overall in the last three seasons, including 1-4-1 in Raleigh. The Canes had a major ACL injury to captain Rod Brind’Amor to knock him out for the year, but it hasn’t slowed them down much. They’ve gotten a career revival from waiver pickup Sergei Samsonov and swung a major deal to acquire offensive D-man Joe Corvo and forward Patrick Eaves, although Eaves is out with shoulder surgery. Their special teams rankings aren’t too much different than the Penguins, being ranked 9th in their powerplay and 28th in penalty killing. I believe the Penguins’ improvement defensively has balanced out the one-sided nature of this series recently, so I’m not as fearful about a potential Pens/Canes series that I may have been in the past.
* New Jersey - It’s all about Marty, Marty and more Marty. Even if the pundits say that Martin Brodeur is having a down year, I’ll take a 43-26-6 record any day of the week. Is he as dominant as he has been in the past ?? No, I think that’s a fair assessment. But he’s still in the top three goalies in the NHL, in my view. Besides being #2 in the NHL with 43 wins, his 2.16 GAA is ranked 4th and his .920 save percentage is ranked 6th. In fact, if you consider that three of the goalies above him in save pct. have played in approximately half of the games that Brodeur has played (Ellis, Conklin, Fleury), he realistically should be about 3rd in save percentage. Anyway, the Devils with new coach Brent Sutter have opened it up a little compared to the past, oh, 30 years or so. So they’re not quite the extremely boring (but quite effective) team they used to be, but they’ve still got the main pieces to be a force in the playoffs. Besides the mainstay of Brodeur, John Madden has to be the most underrated two-way forward in the league, he’s simply outstanding. They’ve still got sufficient firepower in Zach Parise, Brian Gionta and Travis Zajac as well as good defensemen such as Johnny Oduya and Colin White. So the Devils are not quite the machine they used to be, but they can still be quite dangerous to the Penguins.
* N.Y. Rangers - Mark this potential series under the “bloodbath” category. The Penguins went 3-3-2 against the Rangers this year. Most of the times the Penguins lost to the Rangers this year from what I recall it was simply that they didn’t come to play, didn’t match the Rangers’ intensity and got smoked. Now if the Penguins and Rangers were to meet in the playoffs, and thus I would have to assume that the Pens would be checking just as much as the Rangers, so in that regard I would think the Penguins would hold their own in this series. Henrik Lundqvist is a major factor in discussing the Rangers’ playoffs hopes. Lundqvist had 37 wins himself this year, so he’s no slouch by any means. His 2.23 GAA is ranked 6th, his .912 save percentage is ranked 18th and he leads the NHL with 10 shutouts. They’ve certainly got the firepower in Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Gomez and Marty Straka. Sean Avery may be the best agitator in the business, although the Pens’ own Jarkko Ruutu may not agree with that. What usually breaks down first for the Rangers is their defense, although that unit has had it’s good games as well. Nevertheless, a Penguins/Rangers series would no doubt be amongst the best of the playoff year.
* Ottawa - The Ottawa Senators have to be the biggest question mark leading into the playoffs. With a wealth of offensive talent led by the big three of Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley, not to mention some excellent defensemen led by Volchenkov and Phillips, they’ve got more than enough to get back to the Stanley Cup finals. But there are some key issues for the Sens. First and foremost, they’re not officially in the playoffs yet, still needing one point. Both Alfredsson and Mike Fisher suffered knee injuries last game, and the Sens are not sure how long they’re gonna be out. However, it’s the inconsistency between the pipes that may be the deciding factor in terms of how far the Sens go in the playoffs, if they get in, that is. Martin Gerber is now the Sens’ #1 goalie, but his 2.73 GAA is only 31st in the league and his 9.10 save pct. is only 19th. Ray Emery, who the Sens rode to the finals last year, is near the bottom of the NHL in both GAA and save pct. So part of me would like the Pens to get some revenge for last year’s ousting at the hands of the Sens, but at the same time, it won’t take much for the Sens to right back on a roll again.
* Boston - Another team, despite the lesser record, that has matched up well against the Penguins this year. Both teams finished 2-2 in the head-to-head matchup, but the last two games were real stinkers for the Penguins. They’ve implemented an excellent neutral zone trap against the Pens that has really stymied them. Tim Thomas is yet another goalie that has had flashes of brilliance this year for the Bruins. He’s about middle of the pack in GAA but his .921 save pct. is 4th in the NHL. Thomas has definitely been a goalie that has stolen games this year for them. Offensively, they don’t nearly match up with the Pens, with the biggest contributors being Sturm, Kobasew, Murray and Kessel, although they also recently had injuries to both Kobasew and Marc Savard. The imposing figure of Zdeno Chara on the blueline makes Penguins’ forechecking a little more difficult. But overall I think if the Penguins were to face the Bruins in the playoffs and the Pens were smart in their puck dumps rather than trying to stickhandle through the Bruins’ trap, I believe the Pens would eventually win this series.
* Washington - It’s just about the same in every sport, fear the team that’s the hottest going into the playoffs. Well, the Caps haven’t made the playoffs yet, they still need some help, but if they get in, they’ll be on one helluva roll. And if they end up facing the Penguins, that will make for an ideal made-for-TV matchup that the NHL would absolutely love. All the hoopla aside, a Penguins/Capitals matchup would be pretty nasty as well. Maybe not as nasty as a series against the Rangers or Flyers, but they wouldn’t be giving each other Magic/Isiah smooches at center ice, that’s for sure. Of course, the Caps start, and finish for the that matter, with Alex Ovechkin. The Pens have done pretty well against Ovie since his arrival a few years ago. The trade of Cristobal Huet at the deadline was a great addition for the Caps, as well as playoff veteran Sergei Federov. However, I believe in the end that the Penguins would simply have too much firepower that the mediocre Capitals’ defense wouldn’t be able to completely stop that would prevail.
* Philadelphia - Last, and certainly least, are the Flyers. As of right now, the Flyers are out of the playoffs, but they are a game in hand over the Caps, so they control their own destiny. Unfortunately, they have two difficult tasks to get them into the playoffs. First, they’ll have to beat Brodeur and the Devils, then they’ll have to defeat the Penguins on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether the Penguins will still have the conference title to play for or not. The Flyers certainly have skilled players at both forward and defense, with players such as Daniel Briere, Joffrey Lupul, Mike Richards, Darien Hatcher and Jason Smith. They’ve also got a decent goalie in Martin Biron. But this is another case, similar to the Caps, where the Flyers defense, although very physical, matches up very well against the Pens’ skilled forwards, and eventually would defeat the Flyers in a series.
So as you can see, there really aren’t any clear cut “easy” matchups anywhere within the possible Eastern Conference playoff teams. Some are easier than others for the Penguins, in my opinion, such as Washington, Philadelphia or perhaps Boston. But none of them are cut and dry blowout scenarios.
On the flipside, it’d be interesting to see what those teams’ opinions would be about facing the Penguins in the playoffs. I think the Penguins have shown, particularly in the past three weeks or so, that they can play whatever style you throw at them. Want to go coast-to-coast and see who’ll finish on top ?? I think that’d be the most foolish approach to face the Pens, they’d love to play that way. But if you want to play rough, the Pens are more than capable of going toe-to-toe with you as well. Let’s not forget that they’ll have a playoff warrior in Gary Roberts hopefully returning to the lineup on Sunday in Philly.
It’s going to be yet another great playoff season, hopefully a long one for the Penguins. We’ll see after Sunday who plays who in the first round.