28 March 2007

Jagr who?

I had a whole post about the end of the season, how close the playoff race is in the East (the West is pretty much wrapped up, only the 8th spot is open and Calgary is looking pretty good for it), but it all pales in comparison to some of the best news to come out of western Pennsylvania this year:

The Penguins are going to the playoffs.

It's official now, just go look at the splash page up on the Pens' home page. The boys are actually going. So, in the spirit of a Penguins playoff run and the fact that I haven't finished my other post, let's look at how the Pens have historically done in the playoffs and make some predictions based on nothing more than my hopes and dreams of a shiny Cup and the undying loathing of the Devils and the teams from southern New York.

The Pens first playoff run was in 1970 where they went against Oakland (now if the Seals aren't a blast from the past...) and then lost in the next round to St.Louis. The 70's were pretty good playoff-wise, the Pens were fairly consistent in getting to the post season...and then being beaten out in the first round. The 80's weren't as good, making the playoffs only 4 times, losing to Boston, St.Louis, the Islanders, and then Philly in 89.

The 90's were the era of the Pens. Two successive Cups, 91 and 92, and a post season showing for every year. This was also a dynamic, at least in my mind (yes, this was when I hopped on board the Penguins train), time for the Pens, and what shaped some of the rivalries that still show up today, like the Devils, the Caps, and of course, the Flyers (although they were a given). They made it to the conference finals only once, outside of the Cup years, and lost to Florida in a 7 game spread.

Aside from 2001, the recent years have been a bit of a disappointment in terms of the post season. The Pens have finished last in the division in all of the consecutive years, and last year was second in the entire league. This year is obviously shaping up a bit different, and although they had a questionable and rocky start (there was a few nice runs, one which claimed the division lead for a bit), but after Christmas the boys got their act together and made those runs last more than just five games.

Now, with the combined efforts of the team and coaching staff, the Pens are looking to snag the division title for the first time since 97-98. They have a new arena in the works, a 30 year contract, and one of the best teams out in the NHL right now. It's amazing to think that the average age of this team is under 30 (I think it's about 27?). Our top three scorers are unable to buy alcohol in the States. This team is just beginning to come together, and if the Cup doesn't come to roost in Pittsburgh this year, it will in the next two. While I am trying not to sound like a cheesy sportscaster, it's nice to know that all the people that laughed at me last year when I said playoffs in the next two years, and a Cup in the next three, aren't laughing anymore (especially since most of them are Flyers fans).

So what about the boys chances this year? Well, since there is still a week and change left in the season, as well as four playoff spots still open, it's hard to tell who will end up where (especially since the Eastern conference is so congested). Buffalo has the top spot, and unless they completely choke on their last games, they'll keep it. The Pens' dance partner at the moment seems to be Ottawa, who we just can't seem to shake/get a substantial leg over. If the Pens can manage to get over the Devils (and Ottawa, too), that would put us in line to play Tampa Bay for the first round. Against the Lightning this year the Pens have gone 0-4, whereas the Sens they've come out on top 2-1. All things considered, I'd rather play the Senators...and that's saying something. With a bit of reshuffling, we could also be facing the Habs, who the Pens have broken even with a 2-2 split, or the Rangers, who we have also gone 4-4 with (if these stats are a bit off, my apologies, my computer isn't too fond of me at the moment. Yes, they're all just win-loss since there isn't a shootout in the playoffs). The Canadiens are unreliable, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them drop out...or solidify a playoff spot, it's hard to tell with them. Out below the line, but just barely (all by 2 points), are Carolina (1-3), Toronto (I didn't look up the stats on the Leafs, but we've killed them pretty steadily this year), and the Islanders, who are on my shit list at 4-5. Out of all of these teams, I'd be happiest with the chances against the Rangers and Montreal, but like a rubber ball, these teams can bounce to really good, or really bad. I would be hoping for the really bad, obviously. I don't trust the Pens to pull ahead of Ottawa in the finals, they're too solid (although it's nice to see that they have the same trouble with Boston as the Pens do, which we seemed to have rectified on Sunday. Hopefully), and Tampa Bay, even though their goaltending seems to be a little bit porous lately, has historically had good luck in making the Pens cry.

What does this all mean for the Penguins? Without discussing that about half of those wins have been in OT or a shootout, not a whole lot, truthfully. I'm a student, and certainly not an expert, but it seems like their best chance would be for a nice sweep against the Rangers/Montreal, and let the Devils and the Sens beat the heck out of each other (hopefully with the Devils falling) before we get to them. Tampa's offense is still too quick to want to touch (besides, how can you face a team that has two players who have a song? You can't argue with Journey. Kudos to 'Drea for the tip off). Besides, it seems like a Cup tradition to beat out the Rangers and Boston before going to the finals, and the Pens are on their way to smushing the Bruins before April 7th. We won't have Jagr's mullet to guide us this time...and while I'm not a Jagr-hater, I have to admit a little bit of pleasure in thinking of beating him and his new team with the pups that are on the Penguins.

Either way, the Penguins are on their way to the Playoffs for the first time in 6 years. If that, combined with a new arena, a 30 year contract, and one of the most exciting rosters in the entire league doesn't get your hockey juices flowing, nothing will. It's a great time to be a Penguins fan.

Next game is Thursday against the Bruins in Boston. Go Pens.


Teebz said...

Kudos to that analysis. Go Pens, indeed! Watch out for Wade Belak, though. He could turn Toronto's fortunes in a heartbeat. :o)

Steph knows exactly what I mean.

Elly said...

Thanks! Oddly enough, my best friend is in love with Belak, and being a Leafs fan, I'm sure she'd love to see them hop in the playoffs.

Steph said...

Belak indeed! Elly I assume you're talking about Beth and from what I've heard of her, she'd probably get a kick out of the video in question...