The Pittsburgh Penguins are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. What seemed so improbable a short five months ago has become a seemingly unbelievable reality.
The Penguins overcame the Capitals in probably one of the most highly entertaining playoff series’ the Penguins have played in recent memory.
This article will entail many different observations, good and bad, that I took away from the round 2 series against the Capitals.
– For years, if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were struggling to put points on the board, it meant desperate trouble for the Penguins. Not anymore. The depth on this team is unreal. The Penguins are finally a four line hockey team once again. Each line has it’s own components that make it special. But that doesn’t give either Crosby nor Malkin a pass. They both know they will need to step it up and produce some more on the scoresheet.
– Nick Bonino has been incredible this postseason. With his overtime goal last night, Bonino has more playoff points (10) in 11 playoffs games than Brandon Sutter had regular season points (9) in 20 regular season games. Despite his slow start, Bonino with Kessel and Hagelin has been something no one can seem to stop.
– I personally think that Conor Sheary needs to be removed from playing top line minutes with Sid. He was almost invisible in the Washington series. The only problem is there isn’t much of a replacement. Chris Kunitz deserves nothing more than fourth line minutes. The only other replacement I can see actually is Tom Kuhnhackl and I’m still not a huge fan of him playing with Sid.
– Something the Pens absolutely can’t do against Tampa Bay is take frequent penalties. The Pens did a great job staying out of the box for the first 35 minutes of game six. Kunitz took a late tripping penalty and capitalized to give the Capitals a momentum swing going into the third. They scored again in the third. Tampa has only converted 7 goals on 43 power plays for a 16.3% which is next to last among remaining playoff teams. They’ve got the talent to turn that around though if the Penguins give them too many opportunities.
– It’s a blessing to have the D corps that the Penguins currently do. Brian Dumoulin was an animal aside from his terrible turnover in game five. Kris Letang was a critical part of the offense’s flow. Trevor Daley had a very good series. He shined in game four’s absence of Letang. Olli Maatta was pretty meh. Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole played their solid, reliable shutdown styles on the third pair. Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot were just as good as you’d expect rusty defenseman in the playoffs to be, and it worked for their time that they were granted.
– The goaltending situation isn’t a question. Right now, Matt Murray is the go-to-guy. But will that stop head coach Mike Sullivan from going to his starter Marc-Andre Fleury? I can make a valid argument for both, but Murray has gotten you this far so why jump off the train now?
– TJ Oshie is a great hockey player. Despite his poor attitude and diving attempts, he buried five goal in the series against the Penguins. He was the driving force in game one and scored a critical goal in game six to keep momentum on the Capitals side. I don’t like Oshie, but his talent was seemingly rotting away in St. Louis. He’s found a nice home in Washington.
– Chris Kunitz still sucks.
– I’m actually convinced Matt Murray may become the best goalie in the NHL in a few years. He ousted “King Henrik” in round 1, a team that despite how lack luster their roster has been, beat the Penguins two seasons in a row. He then outdueled Braden Holtby, the likely Vezina winner this season. If he’s able to mind the crease better than Vezina candidate Ben Bishop, the Penguins might be on to something.
– Mike Milbury actually might be realizing it’s nearly impossible to be anti-Penguins right now. He surprisingly hasn’t said a bad thing about them nearly all series long. It’s cute to see Milbury sucking up to Crosby’s team.
– This is absolutely Crosby’s team. Here is the quote from the locker room before the third period. Pretty much says it all:
“Guys, we still got a game here. We’re still in a decent spot. Obviously we want to finish it out, everyone knows that, but we can’t stop playing, we can’t just fold. One more goal and this game is over. The past is the past. Can’t do anything about it now. Got to play. Got to be moving forward.” -Sidney Crosby
So now that the President’s Trophy winning Capitals are eliminated, the Penguins have eight more wins to a Stanley Cup Championship.