The Penguins have already faced their two toughest tests in the Eastern Conference.
Look, I’m not taking anything away from the Ottawa Senators. They’re certainly a good team and they earned their spot in the conference final. They are not to be taken lightly.
However, if the NHL puts together a competent playoff bracket, I doubt Ottawa makes it past Pittsburgh, Washington, or even Columbus if I’m being completely honest.
Washington was the best team in the entire playoffs.
They outplayed the Penguins in six of the seven games, but thanks to an extraordinary performance by Marc-Andre Fleury, a brilliant gameplan by Mike Sullivan, and some extremely opportune scoring by the Penguins stars, they’re out in the second round once again.
This was Washington’s one chance to beat the Penguins. Their last chance.
The Penguins lost a top pairing defenseman. Washington added an extra one.
The Penguins were without Sidney Crosby for a game.
Washington doesn’t have a pick in the upcoming draft until the fourth round, they shelled out for Kevin Shattenkirk and Lars Eller to build a team that could beat the Penguins.
They also could be losing two of their better wingers in TJ Oshie and Justin Williams.
Washington just can’t seem to get it done against the Penguins, and it really is remarkable.
visual representation of the capitals trying to move past the second round pic.twitter.com/oJrIiMMhJz
— evgeni malkin's ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) May 13, 2017
I’m not one that is big on preaching about intangibles, but this Penguins has more heart than any group I can remember.
They just have so many clutch performers among their depth forwards.
Bryan Rust has three goals in two game sevens, including the game winner in each.
Nick Bonino seems to just wait around to break teams hearts in the biggest of moments.
Brian Dumoulin played a very noticeable game seven as well. He pinched in all the right situations, made several smart plays on the breakout, and even hammered Ovi in his own defensive zone to set up a pivotal goal.
GIF: Dumoulin hit on Ovechkin🔥 pic.twitter.com/q1dBbIaaZz
— Benstonium (@Benstonium) May 11, 2017
Stepping up for a clean body check like that takes some serious guts, especially on a player as talented as Ovi in a game seven.
But plays like that generate momentum and turn the tide in your favor.
And the Penguins are loaded with guys that always seem to produce those plays time and time again.
The Senators are going to need a performance from Craig Anderson like Fleury had in round two to have any chance in this series.
And I don’t think Craig Anderson has half the talent of Marc-Andre Fleury.
They’ll also need Erik Karlsson to take over each and every game.
I think the Penguins can shut down Erik Karlsson with their star power when he’s healthy.
He’s not healthy.
Plain and simple, Erik Karlsson is at his best when he has the puck. He’s not a defensive liability by any means, but if you force him to play defense when he’s out there, you take the venom out of the Senators team completely.
The Penguins can do just that.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s lines will likely have the puck the majority of the time.
There’s no other team in the league that can throw out two lines like that.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Senators will respond with, but I don’t think their 1-3-1 trap will be any trouble at all for the skilled Penguins.
If they put Karlsson on against 87 and 71, he’s not going to have his best chance to produce offense.
If they match Karlsson up against the bottom two lines, that means 87 and 71 are likely going to feast upon the rest of the Senators defense, which isn’t very good. At all.
It’s also important to mention that Crosby and Malkin historically dominate Ottawa in the playoffs, and they did so with a much worse supporting casts than they have now.
Playoff Career Against Ottawa
Crosby: 20GP 14G 19A 33PTS
Malkin: 20GP 8G 16A 24PTS pic.twitter.com/fuj2on7XtH
— evgeni malkin's ego (@EvgeniMaIkinEgo) May 13, 2017
Now, with Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and company at their side, it’s hard to imagine the result will be any different.
I think they’re both going to go off in this series. I think they’ll challenge each other for the NHL playoff scoring lead and end this series sooner rather than later.
This series reminds me a lot of the 2009 conference final against Carolina.
The Penguins had played their two biggest rivals at the time in the first two rounds in the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
When those Penguins got to the conference finals and faced a lesser team in the Carolina Hurricanes, they absolutely exploded.
It was like they knew they had already beat out their toughest foes and they weren’t going to let a team like the Hurricanes even stick around an extra game.
This year it was the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals. Two incredibly tough and grinding series that pushed the Penguins every step of the way.
Now, they face the Ottawa Senators. As I said before, no opponent should be taken lightly, but they’re not nearly as good as either of their previous two opponents and they don’t match up nearly as well.
The Penguins should absolutely win this series.
It should be noted, that crazy things can happen. Just like Fleury stealing the series from Washington last round.
And I’m not trying to sound arrogant here, but here are my honest thoughts on this series:
The Capitals had a talented roster on all forward lines and every defensive pairing.
Ottawa ices players like Chris Neil and has Kyle Turris as their number one center.
Do I think Kyle Turris can outproduce Sidney Crosby? No.
Do I think Derick Brassard can outperform Evgeni Malkin? Nope.
Do I think Ryan and Dzingel are bigger threats than Guentzel and Kessel? Nah.
Do I think Craig Anderson can outduel the best MAF we’ve ever seen? Not a chance.
Do I think this series goes longer than five games? No, I really don’t.
Congratulations on taking advantage of the easy route to the playoffs, Ottawa, but this is where it ends.
Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Guentzel will be just too much for Melnyk’s budget squad.
The champs are here, and they’re going back to their second straight Cup final.
I want to, but I’ll never predict a sweep; it’s just too pretentious.
Penguins in five.