Pittsburgh Penguins' Possible Playoff Opponents and Prognostication

Eric NaughtonCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MARCH 17: The mascot for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Iceburgh, along with the fans stand at attention during the national anthem prior to the Pens game against the Atlanta Thrashers at the Mellon Arena March 17, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Not too long ago, many people were wondering if the Penguins would even make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Now, everyone is wondering who they'll play in the playoffs.

My prediction is that the boys in black and gold (Vegas gold) will end up in fifth or sixth place. Fourth place is not impossible, but a stretch since the Flyers have three games in hand over the Penguins.

The question going into Pittsburgh's final 10 games is, "how long can the streak go?" Under interim head coach Dan Bylesma, the Penguins are 11-1-3 and undefeated in regulation for their last 11 contests.

If Pittsburgh continues in a similar fashion, they could score 16 or more points by the end of the season and actually end with 100 points.

With big four-point games against the Flyers and Rangers and a game against Calgary, this might seem tough to accomplish, but they proved against Boston that they can beat any team in the NHL right now.


Penguins finish in fifth place (most likely)

I think this is the most likely spot for the Penguins to finish. This would pit them against Philadelphia in another "Pennsylvania State Championship."

This will be an emotional series. Philadelphia certainly wants revenge after the drubbing they received from Pittsburgh in last year's playoffs. Pittsburgh wants to erase the curse of the runner-up.

Like most teams in the NHL, these clubs are very evenly matched. Facing Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Joffrey Lupul, Simon Gagne, and Scott Hartnell, Fleury and the Penguins' defense will have to be on their toes for 60 minutes.

The top three lines of the Penguins will give the Flyers all they can handle. If Pittsburgh can continue to execute their offensive-minded, puck-possession game, and split the first two games in Philadelphia, they’ll move on to the second round.


If the Penguins finish in sixth place

Conventional wisdom says that the Penguins will face the Capitals in a third vs. sixth-place matchup.

Emotional is an understatement, considering the Crosby-Malkin and Ovechkin-Semin rivalries. The Capitals defense is solid, and they have the NHL’s top scoring defenseman in Mike Green.

With home-ice advantage, the Capitals will definitely have the upper hand. They are tough at home and have a great fan base. If the Pens can split the first two games in Washington, they can force this series to seven games.

Consider the possibility that New Jersey ends up in third place. As I write this article, Washington is in second place, but the Devils have three games in hand and Martin Brodeur.

A series between the Penguins and Devils will be much more emotional for the fans.  Though these teams are rivals, their games haven’t been as heated as in years past.

The Devils have solid scoring, solid defense and a wall in goal.  The Penguins will have to get a lot of shots on goal, and keep the Devils out of their offensive zone.


If the Penguins are fourth

In order to do this, the Penguins will have squeaked by the Flyers in points, and Philadelphia is most likely in fifth place. They’ll still face the Flyers, but they’ll end up with home-ice advantage and the opportunity of putting Philly away in five games again this year.

On the outside chance that the Rangers get super hot and the Flyers get super cold, The New York Rangers could face the Penguins in fifth place.

A hot Penguins' team vs. a hot Rangers' squad could be a bruising seven-game series. 

Tortorella and Avery have definitely injected some enthusiasm into the New York Rangers. Antropov seems like a new player with his new club.


Final thoughts

Since mid-February, the Penguins have proven that they can beat any team in the NHL.  They have had many games lately that they would have quit on in December or January.

They have come from behind to win.  They have blown leads and found a way to win.  They have three solid scoring lines and perhaps a fourth, if Satan joins Talbot and Dupuis.

With home-ice advantage, they will be unstoppable. They are showing that even without home ice, they have the will and desire to win games.

The road to the Stanley Cup will be tough, but the Penguins are definitely capable of being the team to take it home.


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