Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

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The Penguins aren’t the favorites in Las Vegas, but their status as the NHL’s two-time defending champions ought not to be discounted as the potential difference-maker entering this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As Doc Emrick likes to say, “It’s history, not prophecy.”

But that said, these Penguins know who they are and what they’re capable of, better perhaps, than the other 15 teams in the postseason field.

And in the end, after a couple of months of breaks, bounces, adversity, heartbreak and elation, that might mean as much to the Penguins as their record-setting power play, the best-in-show presence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Matt Murray’s ability to work magic in a postseason crease.

The Pens’ power play converted at an NHL-best success rate of 26.2 percent, better than the franchise standard of 26.0 achieved in 1995-96 (Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr were among the players doing the man-advantage damage back then). It’s the type of game-dictating A-bomb the likes of which no other team can boast.

Malkin is the only player in the postseason, the only player in the league for that matter who finished in the top five in goals (fourth with 42) and points (fourth with 98) in the regular season. And Crosby is Crosby, so that’s an unmatched one-two punch.

And Murray’s starting point this spring is a postseason shutout streak of 146:26 entering Game 1 against Philadelphia that dates back to Game 4 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final against Nashville. Murray’s career playoff numbers include a 22-9 record, a 1.95 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 32 games (31 starts). Worry about Murray staying healthy if you must, not his glove hand or anything else relative to his ability to stop pucks.

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for the NHL’s sixth all-time Three-peat.

But so, too, is a so-far unshakable belief.

“We have experience,” defenseman Kris Letang maintained. “The little nerves and the ‘not-readiness’ of young guys, I think it’s gone.”

Added winger Carl Hagelin: “When you’ve won before and you have guys who have gone deep in the playoffs before, I think you have some kind of swagger.”

Too much swagger can get a team beat.

But when just the right amount inspires a collective confidence that stops short of complacency, eventually they stage a parade.

That’s not to suggest this year’s Penguins are invincible.

Murray being unavailable for an extended stretch might be a deal-breaker this spring. So might one or two injuries to defensemen, and/or an inability to be as efficient as they’ll need to be killing penalties.

It’s also conceivable the Penguins could reach a saturation point in terms of their willingness to continue paying the price demanded to achieve what they’ve been achieving for two-plus seasons (there are no warning signs detectable at present, but history suggests they’re going to get there eventually). 

And the Bruins or Lightning might just prove to be better teams this season, even with all other things being equal.

So might the Winnipeg Jets.

The Penguins aren’t the favorites in Vegas and they probably shouldn’t be, but they’re also not a team anyone should be rushing to the window to bet against.
 

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section