Coming into this NHL season, I wrote about how difficult it is for a team to repeat as Stanley Cup champion, but that the Pittsburgh Penguins were built to go back to back, and here we are.
After an injury-riddled and adversity-filled trek through the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup final and will try to become the first team since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 to repeat as Stanley Cup champs. The Pens were able to withstand all the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Senators had to throw at them and will now face off with the Nashville Predators, whom very few people had making it out of the first round.
With opening odds of -155 to win the series vs Nashville, I agree strongly with oddsmakers and think the Penguins will go back to back. Here’s why:
They Eat Adversity for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
This team has been burned time after time in these playoffs but hasn’t let injuries to key players be an excuse not to win. They’ve plugged lots of holes and have made the proper adjustments following bad performances and, if necessary, they’ll continue to demolish any issues that come up vs Nashville.
The bad luck started before Game 1 of the playoffs when starting goaltender Matt Murray was injured in warm-ups. Enter Marc-Andre Fleury, who single-handedly won a number of games for the them. Follow that up with Sidney Crosby almost being sent into early retirement in Game 3 in the Capitals series, which once again didn’t turn out to be a significant issue.
Then there’s their ability to bounce back after getting the crap kicked out of them. People wrote them off after their embarrassing Game 6 loss to the Capitals on home ice, which they answered by playing a perfect game in DC in Game 7, winning 2-0 as a +151 underdog. A similar situation repeated itself when they got kicked around in Game 3 by the Sens, losing 5-1. They responded to that by winning the next two games in the series by a combined score of 10-2.
The bottom line is that this team will not fold. They’ve dealt with more adversity than any other team in recent memory on their way to the final and will have no issues eating a bit more on the way to another Stanley Cup win.
Excelling in Game 7s vs the Capitals and Senators was due in part to the fact that it’s something this team has done before – most recently in last year’s Eastern Conference final vs the Lightning.
Looking at the history of the Stanley Cup, it hasn’t been kind to teams making their first trip to the final, as only one of the last five teams in that situation went on to win the series. History also favors teams vying for a second straight Cup win, as teams in that spot have gone 24-13 since 1927.
Now mix that experience with home-ice advantage and we have a recipe for a series win. During the regular season, the Pens had just six home losses in regulation, which was the fewest of any team. Including last year’s playoffs, Pittsburgh is 16-7 in home playoff games. During that run, the Penguins have never dropped consecutive home games in a series, so expect them to take full advantage of the friendly confines of PPG Paints Area.
They’re Flying Again
This year’s run to the Cup looks nothing like last year’s when they outshot their opponent in 20 of the 24 games. For the majority of these playoffs, the Penguins haven’t been themselves. Their smothering offensive attack was snuffed out for the majority of the Capitals series and they were outshot in every game. Even the Blue Jackets outshot them in four of the five games in the first round, but the Pens are finally getting back to their old ways.
Faced off against Ottawa’s tough 1-3-1 trap scheme, the offense busted out in the last four games of the series, outshooting the Sens in each game, averaging almost 40 shots on net. Look for Pittsburgh to carry this offensive momentum into the Nashville series. This is a storm the Predators won’t be able to weather.
Penguins in six, which is currently being offered in the ballpark of +415.
Our resident hockey betting expert, Rob Trites, has been butting heads with me all playoffs over my Penguins takes, which has led to lots of friction in the workplace. He’s once again leading a charge of hate against the Pens and breaks down his reasons for picking the Predators here.
Odds as of May 26 at Bovada