The regular season has come to an end, and once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins will match up against the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 5-game loss in the opening round of last year's playoffs is still fresh in the minds of this young Penguins team. They were outplayed in every aspect of the game against the Sens last year, something that the Pens hope to turn around later this week.
The Season Series:The Senators took three of the four meetings this season, winning two in regulation and one in overtime. The Penguins' only win came on Thanksgiving night, when they came from behind twice during the course of the game before Jarkko Ruutu eventually won it in the shootout for Pittsburgh.
The Sens have been the worst team in the league since the All-Star break, while the Penguins have been the second best, behind only Washington.
Ottawa's Keys to Victory: Defense and Goaltending. Pittsburgh's offensive fire power is well recognized around the league, and the Sens will have to find a way to slow down the top two scoring lines of Pittsburgh. Neither Emery nor Gerber has been playing very good hockey lately, so if the goaltender situation can't be solved, the Sens don't stand a chance.
Pittsburgh's Keys to Victory: Special Teams Play and Goaltending. The Penguins have struggled, with the exception of a 4 goal performance against the Flyers last Wednesday, on the powerplay since Marian Hossa and Sidney Crosby have been added into the mix. The Penguins have the talent to put together one uber-unit or two separate very good units. If Michel Therrien can find the right combination, look out. The Penguins PK at home has clicked at over 90% during the last two months of the season, but on the road, it was ranked under 80%. If the Pens can sure up on the PK away from the Mellon Arena, it will give them a much needed boost.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been playing the best hockey of his career since returning from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for three months. The Flower looked shaky during last year's series against the Sens. If the Flower can keep it going heading into the playoffs this season, the Pens will be in great shape. The performance of Ty Conklin this season also has the Pens feeling like they have a strong backup just in case Fleury falters.
Prediction:The Sens are without Alfredsson, and have been in a free fall down the Eastern Conference ladder. The Pens are finally healthy, and expectations are high for the club who had an early exit from the playoffs last season.....Pens in 5 games.
I always enjoy hearing what other peoples' expectations or predictions are for the playoffs, so feel free to comment on this one.
Let's Go Pens.