These aren't your fathers Pittsburgh Penguins, no sir. Other than the two names at the top of the marquee, the Pittsburgh team that struggled so mightily to dispatch hardworking but under-talented Columbus in six games bares little resemblance to the championship squad of five years ago. Heck, these guys aren't even as good as the bunch that flamed out spectacularly in the Conference Finals last year.
You might say the mighty Penguins are vulnerable.
Yes, a series win is a series win, but matched up against the seven seed Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh looked nothing like the dominant cup favorite they're expected to be year in and year out, giving away leads like free samples at Ikea, and ultimately turning what should have been a 4-0 laugher in game six into a one-goal squeaker. If Sergei Bobrovsky, last year's Vezina winner, improved on his pedestrian .908 SV% — 15 ticks below his regular season mark — the series would still be going.
The Penguins still have the nearly unequaled duo of Evgeni Malkin (no goals before a hat trick last night) and Sidney Crosby (a goose egg in all 6) going for them, but after the two headliners, there's a shocking lack of depth. James Neal and Chris Kunitz would be welcome in any team's top-6, and Jussi Jokinen has had a tremendous renaissance season, but the cupboard is largely bare up front beyond that. Pittsburgh is a two line team, and the defense and goaltending behind those two lines isn't Fort Knoxian in strength.
The Rangers, who will face Pittsburgh if they advance, shouldn't fear these Penguins.
But first, there is that little matter of advancing — not a given, even up 3-2 with home ice waiting in game seven if they can't seal the deal tonight in Philadelphia. The Blueshirts have lost their last 11 playoff games which they entered with a lead in the series, the longest streak in NHL history — yet despite this allergy to success, have somehow won three series' since the streak's inception.
While the Rangers seemingly found the key to beating Steve Mason in game five, they'll likely need to solve to riddle that is their struggling power play to finish off Philly. The Blueshirts have had at least three opportunities with the man advantage in every game so far, but are in the midst of an 0 for 15 funk.
The Flyers made an adjustment in game two — electing to challenge at the blue line instead of allowing free entry into the zone — and the Rangers have been flummoxed ever since. It's a problem that can be solved with either a soft cross corner dump in, or a drop pass in the neutral zone — something Chicago does with Patrick Kane to change up the entry point and allow their most skilled player to handle the puck — instead of allowing one player (typically Brad Richards) to bring the puck up ice the whole way.
If the Rangers can fix their PP woes — and maybe get Rick Nash on the board — than they can turn their attention to Pittsburgh, and they won't be intimidated by what they see.
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