Reporting Colin Dunlap
PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) – Expectations are a hell of a thing. But have we gone too far?
Are we setting ourselves up for a potential letdown here in Penguinville?
The Penguins (36-12) earned the No. 1 seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and, by virtue of that virtuoso regular-season performance, will take on the eighth-seeded Islanders (24-17-7) in the first round of the playoffs which begin Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center.
Let’s all take a deep breath here, however, before automatically taking a deep guzzle from the Stanley Cup.
Those of us who are old enough — and by my lack of hair, count me in — can remember the last time the Penguins were a sure bet to at least get to, if not win, the Stanley Cup Finals.
The 1992-93 Penguins were, quite simply, masterful, in the regular season, at least.
Coming off of back-to-back Stanley Cups, that bunch won 17 consecutive games during a stretch in the regular season and compiled a 56-21-7 record.
Four Penguins that season had more than 100 points, with Mario Lemieux playing just 60 games but accumulating a staggering 160 while Kevin Stevens had 111, Rick Tocchet had 109 and Ron Francis gathered 100.
What a schlep Jaromir Jagr was that season, only being able to muster 94 points as a 20-year-old, huh?
Goaltender Tom Barrasso was stellar, winning 43 times as he fended off puck after puck.
The profoundly-favored Penguins rolled through the first round of the playoffs in five games over the New Jersey Devils, seemingly on a path-of-little-resistance toward hoisting the Cup.
In the second-round, however, the Islanders defeated the Penguins in overtime of Game 7. That was when a Czech many never heard much about before then — and certainly don’t ever, still to this day, want to hear anything about — David Volek, scored on a 2 on 1 rush to turn the lights out on, perhaps, the finest team ever to wear Penguins sweaters.
Just like that it was over.
Voila, Volek, vaporized.
It wasn’t just that many thought that team in 1993 could win the Stanley Cup. No, it was that many here in Penguinville already had that team — in deep, dark ink — as a shoo-in to waltz through the bracket and win it all.
It doesn’t say here that this Penguins team will have much trouble with these Islanders in the first round. The pervasive thought here coincides with what many prognosticators think about the first-round matchup, that the Penguins should zip through to the second round, dispatching the Islanders in about five games.
But from there, who knows?
At some point in these playoffs, the Penguins must go through either Montreal, or the Capitals, or the Rangers, or the Bruins or the Leafs or the Senators just to get to play for the Stanley Cup.
Then, if that happens, who knows what waits on the other side, in a season where no team from the Eastern Conference has played a team from the Western Conference.
Could it be the Blackhawks? Could it be Anaheim or San Jose perhaps? Maybe the defending champion Kings will hitch up their bootstraps and make another run?
That’s the point in totality here: This all needs to play out, but too many of us seem to already have our craniums conditioned to some kind of automatic walk into the Stanley Cup Finals happening over the next few weeks.
Certainly, not one person can argue that the assemblage of talent under Dan Bylsma’s command is prodigious. A team with a roster dotted with names such as Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Neal, Iginla, Kunitz, Morrow, Fleury, Jokinen, Martin and Dupuis reads like an all-star squad.
Are the Penguins a safe bet in the eyes of many to at least make it the Stanley Cup Finals? Absolutely.
Are they are sure bet? No.
Are there truly any sure bets? No again.
If you learned one thing from the 1993 Penguins, that should be it.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. -2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.