March of the Penguins: Pittsburgh Continues Playoff Excellence

Dustin PollackContributor IMay 26, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MAY 04:  (L-R) Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate a second period goal by Marian Hossa #18 against the New York Rangers during game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2008 at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I'm not going to lie, in my playoff pool I had the Penguins going down in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers. Well call me any name you want now for that prediction. 

On the other hand I called Bill Guerin to step up after a lousy round one performance and he has 10 points in his last 10 games.
So instead of making anymore crazy far fetched predictions, I'll make a small prediction. The Stanley Cup finals will consist of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings
Don't let your jaws drop too far I know that was right out of left field considering the Pens and Wings haven't won their series' yet, but I'll take my chances since both have sizable leads in their conference final series.
But don't take me to the bank on that statement, it wasn't long ago that I wrote about how the Washington Capitals were as good as eliminated when they were down 3-1 in a series with the New York Rangers.
So then comes the real question: who hoists the Stanley Cup from mid June.
Here comes the prediction.
I'm going to go against the main stream on this one and say the Pens take the Wings this year and win the Stanley Cup finals rematch.
Call me whatever name you want for that one but let me give an explanation first.

Crosby ain't no kid anymore
I'm not Crosby's biggest fan. Partly because I like Ovechkin better and partly because I think Sidney is way too by the book in terms of his personality.
But nothing I say about his personality is going to inflict on the fact that this guy is a remarkable talent.
His on ice product has clearly matured since last playoffs and his numbers show it. After 16 playoff games last year Sidney had just four goals. This season he has nearly quadrupled that number with 14 goals thus far.

Crosby isn't a kid anymore, well maybe his age says so, he's only 21 but his on ice production is that of an all star veteran. I think he's ready to make the next step.

The Best second liner of all-time?
Quite frankly I wanted to write an entire blog about Evgeni Malkin earlier in the season. My personal opinion is that the guy is under appreciated. A pretty ridiculous title for the one who tallied the most points this season with 113.
The under appreciated Malkin may only be the case in Canada where Crosby is the golden boy, but in truth any team with Malkin on their second line is headed in the right direction.

Leading the league in playoff points with 28 Malkin has responded to media criticism that said he failed to show up in round two, with nine points in only three games against the Carolina Hurricanes in round three.
If this continues Malkin will be on fire come the finals. I wouldn't want to be his opponent.

Thicker Skin
Last season the Pittsburgh Penguins were not ready for the Detroit Red Wings when the finals commenced.
In reality the Penguins walked all over the three teams they played against in the previous rounds sweeping the Ottawa Senators rolling over the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, both in five games.
This season has been a little bit different. The Pens struggled in round one with the Flyers and were almost forced to the brink if it wasn't for a game six comeback. They beat the Flyers in six games.
Any sports fan knows about the Pens/Caps showdown, one that saw the faces of the three best offensive players in the world under one roof. The Pens took the Capitals in an epic seven game series. Epic except for the dreadful game seven.
Now they are on the path of sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes, the same team who took out Marty Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils and the first place Boston Bruins. Beating the Canes could instill the perfect amount of confidence in the Penguins when they walk into the Joe Louis Arena for game one.

Where is Pavel Datsyuk?
Yes, I know he's hurt but where was he even before that? He has one goal in 13 games this playoffs. I understand that analysts say he does many other great things aside from putting pucks in the net but truth being, come the finals your best player needs to be your best player.
Solid on the back end and poised between the pipes
Former head coach, Michelle Therrien so eloquently once called the Pens defense “the softest defensive squad in the league." That hasn’t been the case this playoff.
Eric Staal has been completely invisible this series, with zero goals. He has his brother Jordan and the Pens defense to thank for that. Hal Gill has been paired with Rob Scuderi in this series and the two combined with a solid Pens 3rd line have completely shut No. 12 down.
Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar have been solid puck movers on defense where Mark Eaton and Brooks Orpik have continued to be "stay at home" defenders. Letang stepped up earlier in the playoffs when Gonchar went down and has tallied nine points in these playoffs and is continuing to learn from one of the best offensive defenseman in the league.
Between the pipes, Marc-Andre Fleury continues to improve and at points is this series,commentators have brought up Fleury in team Canada 2010. I personally wouldn't go that far but Fleury has a lot to be proud about thus far.
A fourth line with goal scoring talent
Head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dan Bylsma has given Canes coach Paul Maurice something to really think about when it comes to matchups. Bylsma has been double shifting Crosby on the fourth line with Miroslav Satan and Craig Adams.

Satan and Adams have combined for 11 points this playoffs and playing with Crosby could ignite former all-star, Satan making for an extremely dangerous 4th line in Pittsburgh. Mike Babcock should start thinking.
Another notable move by Bylsma was putting Max Talbot up on the second line. After all he is a superstar. Chika Chika yea.
Check out this link if you didn't catch that line. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOrvdvczpEA