The Pittsburgh Penguins clearly have their hearts set on a banner and why wouldn’t they. There is no banner handed out for finishing first in the regular season unless you win the Presidents Trophy and they had no chance at that. In their final regular season game against Philadelphia they showed no desperation at all to supplant Montreal for first in the east. Crosby was a healthy scratch and many of the players who saw powerplay time in that game rarely get that time in games that matter. It appeared more than obvious they were playing for a match up. They wanted Ottawa in the first round and they played poorly enough to get it.
Ottawa is considered by virtually everyone as the easiest opponent in the first round in the east. They did not tear it up down the stretch. They still have problems in their own end and the injury losses of Alfredsson, Fisher and Kelly make Ottawa the team on paper that everyone wanted to face. The Senators were considered favorites to return to the cup final not so long ago and now are thought of as the walk over opponent. That’s how quickly this game can change.
No one wanted to face Washington as they ended the regular season as the hottest team in the NHL with 9 wins in their last 10 games and with the hottest scorer in the league in Alexander Ovechkin. This is the same team which was dead last in the NHL for 15 days this season and did not get a playoff spot until the second last day of the season.
What this tells me is that all we know is that we don’t know much. Remember this is the same league where the Oilers a few years ago made the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and then somehow got to the final. This is the same league where Detroit was the virtual wire-to-wire point’s leader in the NHL and won the Presidents Trophy as the league’s best team over the run of the regular season, yet most of the prognostications are that either San Jose or Anaheim will come out of the west.
This is why you have to love the new NHL at least in this regard. There are no sure things. Teams beat the odds all the time in this league. Just look at the east as a whole based on the pre-season predictions from many of the expert panels. Most predicted Boston, Montreal and Washington wouldn’t even make the playoffs and yet all 3 are in. In 9 of the last 10 years a #7 seed has beaten a #2 seed in the first round. That would be a shock wave upset if Ottawa were to be the 10th team in 11 years since many are predicting Pittsburgh will win the east.
Montreal, Pittsburgh and Washington are now the sexy picks as the teams most likely to come out of the east, but defence is usually what wins playoff series and the Rangers are the best defensive team in the east but they are facing the 2nd best defensive team in the east in New Jersey in the first round.
For Ottawa the best thing for them is all the talk. The more the media keeps telling the Penguins they will sweep and in fact the Senators wont even win a period the better it is for Ottawa. With all the talent they have, they still have very little playoff experience amongst their best players and what they have is mostly bad. Experience counts for a lot in the post season.
I am not going to say Ottawa should be the favorite and I am not going to predict an Ottawa upset, but those who think this will be a walk through series for the Penguins should just keep telling Pittsburgh that. Its Ottawa’s greatest weapon.
See you at the rink.