Then there are the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A team loaded with stars.
A team that's been here before.
A team that will consider this season a failure if they don't win it all.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have experienced high levels of adversity throughout the season, missing their star center, Sidney Crosby, for much of the year because of concussion-related symptoms.
At certain times of the season in the second half, they were also playing without their best defenseman, Kris Letang.
Through all of that, they were still able to win on a regular basis, finishing the season with the second-highest point total in franchise history with 108.
Once again, doing that without Sid just makes it even more remarkable.
The Penguins are healthy now and have one of the most robust lineups in the league, featuring three explosive scoring lines, a Stanley Cup-proven goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and a stingy defense.
It's true that the road to the Stanley Cup will not be easy for the Pens. They start off against the Philadelphia Flyers, who beat the Pens four out of six times this season. Then, assuming they advance, they'll probably have to go up against the Boston Bruins or New York Rangers.
That being said, the team is more than capable of winning it all. In fact, it should.
The Penguins were the highest scoring team in the NHL this season, having scored 282 goals, their highest total since the 1996-97 season. Not only that, but they have the second-best goal differential in the Eastern Conference, exemplifying the fact that they're not a one-dimensional team.
The team is also extremely resilient. The Penguins had eight comeback wins and had the highest winning percentage in the NHL when trailing after two periods. Having opponents score on them first does not faze them. They know they can score with a rapid response and get back in any game immediately.
Most importantly, from top to bottom, the Penguins are filled with guys who can put the puck in the net. They never roll out consistent lines, but Dan Bylsma's style of changing his lines exemplifies the chemistry his players have with each other.
That being said, lines like the Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-James Neal line were highly successful this season. It combined for 251 points this season, and that's just Pittsburgh's first line.
Pascal Dupuis had a career year, scoring 59 points, and he's currently on a 17-game point streak. When your role players are putting up huge numbers like that, you're in pretty good shape.
We haven't mentioned Crosby, who scored 37 points in just 22 games of action. There's no doubt he will turn it up a notch when the playoffs start.
The point is, the Penguins' scoring is unbelievably deep. It's made up of perhaps the deepest and most lethal three lines we've seen in the NHL for a long time. Perhaps.
After all, ever since Crosby came into the lineup, the team has scored fewer than three goals on just one occasion in the last 14 games. They've averaged 4.5 goals per game during that span.
Basically, if anyone is going to beat the Penguins, they're going to have to put up at least four goals on a regular basis. That's awfully hard to do, considering the Penguins defense is already pretty stingy with guys like Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Matt Niskanen, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin.
Throw in Fleury and an elite penalty killing unit, which was ranked third in the NHL, and all of a sudden it becomes an extremely arduous task to keep up with the Pens, especially during a seven-game series.
This is why anything less than a Stanley Cup is a major disappointment. The Penguins have plenty of expiring contracts in the next few years. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury are all free agents in the coming years. It's going to be a mountain of a task to re-sign all of them under the salary cap.
The window of opportunity is getting smaller to win more Stanley Cups.
This year, it's Cup or bust for the Pens.
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