PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It took 82 games to get in, but the Pittsburgh Penguins will compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, things are different this time around.
A truly sluggish finish down the stretch required a win in Buffalo on the final day of the regular season to even qualify for the playoffs.
Because of that, expectations for this team in the playoffs haven’t been this low in a long time – at least among fans.
After a blazing 25-10-6 record in the first half of the season, the Penguins limped home with an 18-17-6 second half, including a 1-4-1 record in April.
On top of that, some disturbing trends emerged over the course of the season.
For example, the Penguins were 0-18-5 when trailing after two periods of play. Equally as disturbing is the Pens were just 4-16-5 when trailing after the FIRST period.
The last time the Penguins came back in a third period to win a game on the road was Dec. 27, 2013 – a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
At home, the last third period comeback was Jan. 5. 2014 – a 6-5 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
When an opponent scored first this season, the Pens were 10-18-5.
Despite a new coaching staff, general manager, injuries (343 man games lost) and anything else you want to add to the list, the Penguins are in the dance.
Their opening round dance partner? The President’s Trophy-winning New York Rangers.
Penguins-Rangers By The Numbers
In case your short-term memory isn’t so good, the Rangers erased a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Penguins last season in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
New York would eventually go on to lose to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The loss ultimately put the final nail in the coffin of former general manager Ray Shero and former head coach Dan Bylsma.
This year’s squad – much like last year’s – isn’t afraid to roll four lines. Why? Balanced scoring is the name of their game.
Rick Nash led the team with 42 goals and 69 points, but eight other players registered 30-plus points this season.
Meanwhile, rookie Kevin Hayes chipped in 16 goals and 43 points in 79 games.
The Rangers only had three players score over 20 goals: Nash, Martin St. Louis (21) and Chris Kreider (21).
However, seven others scored 10 or more goals: Derick Brassard (19), Hayes (17), Carl Hagelin (17), Derek Stepan (16), Mats Zuccarello (15), Dominic Moore (10), J.T. Miller (10).
For the season, the Rangers were third in the league in goals scored (252). Only Dallas, (261) and Tampa Bay (262) scored more goals this season.
On the other side of that equation, the Rangers allowed just 192 goals this season. Only Chicago (189) and Montreal (189) allowed fewer.
One area the Penguins may be able to exploit is the faceoff dot.
As a team, the Rangers’ faceoff winning percentage was 28th in the league at 46.7 percent. The Penguins were 19th overall at 49.1 percent.
Pittsburgh was 19th in goals for (221) and 10th in goals against (210).
At home this season, the Rangers hold a 25-11-5 record and were 28-11-2 away from Madison Square Garden.
The Penguins were 23-14-4 at home and 20-13-8 on the road.
New York did a lot of damage against Metropolitan Division foes this season with a 23-6-1 record. Meanwhile, the Pens were just 9-17-4.
In goal, King Henrik Lundqvist had to relinquish his throne for an extended period of time in the latter half of the season.
Lundqvist was struck in the neck by a shot during a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 31. He remained in the game and played two nights later – winning both contests.
He would not return to the pipes until March 28 against the Boston Bruins.
In seven starts after the injury, Lundqvist allowed three or more goals just twice. One of those occasions was his first game back.
Lundqvist finished the regular season with a 30-13-3 record to go along with a 2.25 GAA and a .923 save percentage and five shutouts.
As for the Penguins, they can thank team MVP Marc-Andre Fleury for this playoff opportunity. Why? Without him and his stellar play this season, the Penguins likely miss the playoffs.
Fleury was phenomenal this season. If you don’t agree with that, I don’t know what team you were watching.
Fleury matched a career best 2.32 GAA set back in 2010-11. His .920 save percentage was the second best of his career (.921 in 2007-08 in only 35 games).
Oh, and those 10 shutouts this season were not only a career best, but he led the league in that category.
While both he and the team struggled to keep the puck out of the net in the playoffs for a couple of years, Fleury rebounded well last year.
Sure, there were a couple goals against Columbus he would want back, but that’s not the point.
Fleury posted a 2.40 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 13 games last year – numbers that were only bested by his run in 2008 (1.97 GAA, .933 save percentage).
Regular Season Series
The Penguins were 1-2-1 against the Rangers during the regular season.
Evgeni Malkin (2 goals, 1 assist) and Nick Spaling (1 goal, 2 assists) led the way for the Penguins with three points apiece.
As for the Rangers, Rick Nash led all players with four goals and seven points in the four games between the clubs.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury was 1-2-1 with a 4.21 GAA and a .866 save percentage. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist was 3-0-1 with a 1.69 GAA and a .950 save percentage.
Overall, the Penguins were outscored 16-7 in the series. However, they did outshoot the Rangers 140-126.
Home Team In Bold
- Nov. 11, 2014 – Penguins 0, Rangers 5
- Nov. 15, 2014 – Rangers 2, Penguins 3 (SO)
- Dec. 8, 2014 – Penguins 3, Rangers 4 (OT)
- Jan. 18, 2015 – Rangers 5, Penguins 2
KDKA-TV’s Bob Pompeani – Follow On Twitter @KDPomp
For the first time in many years, the Penguins are going into the post season where the ONLY thing expected of them is to lose.
On paper, that makes sense. The Rangers are the deeper, more talented team (ESPECIALLY defensively). BUT, that does not guarantee a four-game sweep.
Look, New York should win this series. The Penguins have given no indication that they are playing at a level necessary to win. BUT, we have seen series turn because of a hot goalie (Example: Halak with MTL, Dwayne Roloson with TB).
Marc-Andre Fleury has had a solid year. If he continues to play that way, he gives them a chance.
Then, it’s about Special Teams, which have not been good of late for the Penguins. They must eliminate shorthanded goals against and take advantage of power play chances. They have the talent to do that and MUST.
The Rangers roll four lines, their six defensemen are as good as any in the NHL and Henrik Lundqvist is back – albeit a bit rusty.
Make no mistake, the Penguins are not the same team WITHOUT Letang and what looks like an unhealthy Malkin.
Quite frankly, the Penguins Stars MUST be stars in this series. If they can and if they make the Rangers pay with power play goals, they CAN WIN this series. It will take a herculean effort, however.
Keep this in mind, a few years ago, the Penguins SWEPT the Bruins 5-0 in a regular season series only to lose 4 straight in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Nobody really knows how this will play out.
I see Rangers in 7.
KDKA-TV’s Rich Walsh – Follow On Twitter @RichieWalsh
If we were talking about a fully healthy Penguins team I would feel a little different about this series. The Rangers finished as the best team in the NHL.
The Penguins were battling for that spot a few months ago but injuries to key guys changed that.
The Pens have struggled lately losing five straight before winning their final game in Buffalo.
It doesn’t look like Kris Letang will play in this series against the Rangers. No Letang is a huge loss. Christian Ehroff is getting healthy but still not 100 percent.
If the Pens have any chance in this series, they will have to rely on their forwards.
You can never count out a team with two of the best players in the world on their roster. I just don’t think Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have the supporting cast to get past the Rangers.
Marc-Andre Fleury can steal a series, but so can Henrik Lundquist. I know anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings are an example of that last season.
My heart is telling me Penguins in 6, but my head is telling me Rangers in 7.
KDKA Senior Web Producer & Shea-ved Ice Blogger Casey Shea’ Prediction – Follow On Twitter @SheavedIce
I’d love to sit here and say the Penguins are going to win this series, but I just don’t see it happening.
It’s true, they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. One Rangers fan friend of mine said he wanted to avoid the Penguins for as long as possible because of the Two-Headed Monster.
Now, more than in previous years, Crosby, Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury will have to put this team on their backs.
There was a point early on in the season that the Pengunis’ power play was seemingly unstoppable. I’m not saying it has to be hovering near 50 percent or anything in this series. They just need to score enough to make the Rangers think twice about taking penalties.
At the very least, score enough with the man advantage to make the Rangers think twice about taking costly runs at Crosby and Malkin.
At the end of the day, I feel like the Pens can steal one of the first two games at MSG and might be able to pick off a home game at some point in the series.
I have to go with the Rangers in 6, but if the Pens come back to Pittsburgh down 0-2, this will be over even quicker.
Playoff Series Schedule
* If Necessary
- Game 1: at NYR – Thursday, April 16 – 7 p.m.
- Game 2: at NYR – Saturday, April 18 8 p.m.
- Game 3: at PIT – Monday, April 20 7 p.m.
- Game 4: at PIT – Wednesday April 22 7 p.m.
- Game 5: at NYR – Friday, April 24 TBD*
- Game 6: at PIT – Sunday, April 26 TBD*
- Game 7: at NYR – Tuesday, Apr 28 TBD*