NHL Playoff Predictions 2012: Healthy Pittsburgh Penguins Are Team to Beat

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NHL Playoff Predictions 2012: Healthy Pittsburgh Penguins Are Team to Beat
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After a 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the NHL quarterfinals round, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in danger of making an early playoff exit. But with a healthy Sidney Crosby and a focused Evgeni Malkin, this Pittsburgh squad has the tools to win the Stanley Cup.

Crosby, the purest talent in the NHL, missed the playoffs last year after a concussion sidelined him for the majority of last year and a solid chunk of this season.

However, he made his presence felt in the early going in Game 1 against the Flyers, and that is a good sign for the rest of the series. Crosby put the opening goal of the series in the net, setting the tone for a very strong first period that the Pens weren't able to maintain.

The major factor, aside from Crosby staying on the ice, has to be Malkin playing the way he did en route to more than 100 points and the Art Ross Trophy. Malkin had no points and just three shots during his time on the ice in Game 1, which was part of the reason Philadelphia was able to come back.

James Neal and Kris Letang can match up with what Philadelphia can throw in the rest of this series, and  Pittsburgh should clear the first round and move deeper into the playoffs. After all, the Penguins have just as much or more talent than any team in the league.

A healthy Penguins team is the best team in the NHL, hands down.

Don't forget, they've only had Crosby for 14 games. If the team chemistry and solid line play trend the way they do when Crosby and Malkin are clicking, then that first period in Game 1 should be the benchmark for motivation all the way to the Cup.

Fixing their power-play struggles in Game 2 will also be an issue. But should that improve, they'll have a great chance to head to Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1. Beyond that, don't sleep on this Pens team, even if they do have to win games on the road to get out of this first round.

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