The NHL Playoffs Start on Wednesday, A Few Teams Surprised Us All and Made it in the Big Show. But Who Will Finish as the Stanley Cup Champion? Follow This Prediction Series to Find Out!
BREAKDOWN OF THE TEAMS SEASON: Pittsburgh had a rather odd season, that picked up really fast. Sidney Crosby missed a total of seven games to begin the season but stormed back and finished second in league scoring with 44 goals, good enough for the Maurice Richard trophy. But what else do you expect from the best player in the world? Evgeni Malkin also had himself a solid year putting up 72 points in 62 games. The biggest surprise has to be the Pens rookies, guys like Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Josh Archibald, Conor Sheary, Carter Rowney, and Cameron Gaunce really stepped into some big roles when needed and ran with it, and let’s not forget the pickup of Justin Schultz either. Another surprise has to be Marc-Andre Fleury‘s season, which has made him quite expendable on the verge of the expansion draft. But speaking of surprises, how about those Blue Jackets? A bottom feeder team last season to being in the playoffs this season is a huge accomplishment. And their success came in the hands of rookie defenseman Zach Werenski, $500,000 man Sam Gagner and the outstanding play from Sergei Bobrovsky. The team also got some depth scoring when needed from a few more rookies as well making for an exciting series in the NHL playoffs
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Apr 2, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins teammates congratulate left wing Conor Sheary (R) on his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at the PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh has probably one of the more deadly power plays in the NHL, they finished third on the season at 23.1 percent, but with units consisting of Hornqvist, Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel, Guentzel, Sheary, Schultz, and Trevor Daley, it’s not hard to see why they finished where they did. So if this series comes down to special teams since both clubs have tremendous goalies, Columbus may be in some trouble. And speaking of trouble, the Pens penalty kill definitely hurt them. They finished the season 20th in the league at 79.8 percent. Which is a huge cause for concern since the Jackets have a solid power play themselves? But with guys like Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit and hopefully Olli Maatta soon, the Pens PK can see a significant increase in the playoffs, plus the running of Matthew Murray will help over Fleury.
Apr 8, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Pittsburgh 5-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry (35) follows the puck during the second period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh had a solid one-two punch with Matthew Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, but after Fleury’s regular season you got to think Murray is once again going to get the playoff nudge. And that’s not a bad thing since he did win the cup as a rookie starting in the playoffs last year. Now Columbus has a solid one-two punch as well with Sergei Bobrovsky having the best season of his career, and Joonas Korpisalo really stepping up his play. But if this series falls to the backups, Fleury has Korpisalo, again Pittsburgh pulls out ahead.
This is going to be a very close series that’s not going to see a lot of goal scoring. Both teams possess tremendous defensive cores to stop the puck while both also possess forward cores sufficient enough to get the job done. Another thing is both teams have top-notch goaltenders. So what will the series boil down to with all that in mind, in my opinion, special teams? Pittsburgh’s scary power play units may be too much for the Blue Jackets defense to handle on a consistent basis.