The Pens looked like both the best and the worst team to make the playoffs throughout the six game series with the HATED Philadelphia Flyers. At times goal-tending, defense, offense, and power play looked out of place, but thankfully, the players stuck together enough to push through the first round. The players now have a a few days off to wait around for their conference semi-final match-up.
If I could pick the perfect opponent for the Pens in the second round, I’d go with the Caps. I know the Caps won the season series in convincing fashion, 3-1; however, the record improves to 1–1 if you only count the games with the “new look” Pens under interim head coach Dan Bylsma.
Like the Penguins, the majority of the Caps points are generated by a dynamic duo. No, not Batman and Robin, but rather a pair of Alex's: Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. I still remember Semin shooting his mouth off about Sid early in the season; now would be a perfect time to show him what’s so special about Sid. In the points department, Malkin and Crosby have a slight edge with 17; (the Alex's have 14). One also might argue the Pens played a tougher opponent in the Flyers. King Henrik has certainly not played like a top tier goaltender in his last two starts; and overall, the Rangers look like they're itching to improve their golf handicap, rather than moving on to the next round.
Next, the goal-tending. Sure, Valamov has played like a stud, posting a stingy 1.21 GAA in the first five playoff games of his career. Unfortunately for the Caps, he’s a largely untested goaltender playing in his first NHL season. Look for the Pens to rattle his cage early with a plethora of shots. As many NHL rookies find out, the playoffs are an all new season, where mistakes are amplified and only those with a strong mental game successfully maneuver the wreckage. The Snowman, Marc-Andre Fleury (I cannot call him the Flower, that nickname is reserved for the great Guy Lafleur) is a proven playoff veteran, helping the Pens all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Granted, he has stumbled in this year’s playoffs, but he will only get better as they go deeper into the playoffs.
Other potential opponents for the Pens include: the Hurricanes, Devils, and the Bruins. For various reasons I don’t like our chances as much against these three opponents, mainly due to goal-tending. If the Hurricanes manage to squeak past the Devils, it’ll be as a result of Ward staying on top of his game, which will be problematic for any team matched up against them in the second round. The Devils have Brodeur, and he’s equally as competent between the pipes, with a long, distinguished playoff career. Also, the Devils have a history of picking up their game in the playoffs and I’d rather not mess with their lineup. And lastly, the Bruins. Let’s face it, nobody wants to play the Bruins. Some will say “you have to beat them sometime,” which may be true. But, I’d like to keep that until the conference finals if I could.