Sadly, the Pittsburgh Penguins are out of contention for their sixth Stanley Cup this season, but that does not mean you can’t find a team or player to root for during the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It will come down to four remaining teams — the Vegas Golden Knights against the Montreal Canadiens, and the New York Islanders squaring off with the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
So, if you’re a die-hard Penguins fan and only want to cheer for the black and gold or someone with a connection to Pittsburgh, here’s how the remaining teams have ties with the Pens.
Vegas Advancing With Flower Power
As every Penguins fan surely knows, the end of the 2016-17 season not only marked the end of goaltending excellence in the Steel City, but it also marked the end of Marc-Andre Fleury’s stellar career with the Penguins.
In the summer of that season, Fleury was drafted by the newly-formed Vegas Golden Knights as Matt Murray became the heir to the goaltending crown in Pittsburgh. Things didn’t exactly work out for Murray and the Penguins, but did it ever work for the Golden Knights and Fleury.
In four seasons in Vegas, Fleury has a record of 117-60-14 during the regular season with a .917 save percentage and an impressive 2.41 GAA. In his 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, Fleury went 375-216-2-66 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.58 GAA.
During the playoffs, however, Fleury went 62-51 with a .908 save percentage and 2.65 GAA in Pittsburgh, compared to a 27-16 record with Vegas to go along with a much better save percentage of .921 and a 2.23 GAA. Sure, the sample sizes are lopsided, but the numbers still speak.
This postseason, Fleury is 8-4 with a .923 save percentage and an incredible 1.91 GAA en route to lifting the Golden Knights into the Stanley Cup semifinals with a criminal performance against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche.
Canadiens Remain Underdogs
Here’s another thing you don’t have to remind Penguins fans: the way their team lost in the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs — at the hands of the gritty Montreal Canadiens. This might not be a reason to root for the Canadiens, but they were a very tough team to play against in the bubble in Toronto after the restart of the NHL season due to the pandemic.
The Penguins, who entered the Qualifying Round with the fifth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference (.623), were tasked with the Canadiens in a best-of-five series.
The Penguins, who were the fifth-seed, were able to win just one game in that series, Game 2 by the score of 3-1. Carey Price capped off the series with a 22-save shutout in Game 4 in Tristan Jarry’s playoff debut.
Listen, it’s a three-out-of-five. Anything can happen. We did some good things. Did we do enough? No. Give them credit. They played really well and got some big plays throughout the four games. … This is a situation we were faced with. Would’ve loved a better outcome.Sidney Crosby after Game 4 via NHL.com
The Canadiens were able to build off that performance heading into the 2020-21 season and gained a lot of character from that series. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anything can happen, and the Canadiens proved that both last year and this year.
Joseph Brothers Making Waves in NHL
There is surely one current Penguin that will have his eyes glued to the television set for the Tampa Bay-New York series — Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who is the brother of Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph.
Mathieu Joseph has accumulated 29 goals and 52 points in 163 career games with the Lightning over the course of three seasons. However, he has struggled to get in the lineup during the playoffs for the Lightning, playing four games during the 2018-19 playoffs, none during their Cup run last season, and just two this season. But, hey, everyone gets a ring, right? Everyone plays a part in a Cup run and with the array of injuries in the postseason, there is a good chance he could be slotted into the lineup at some point.
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Pierre-Olivier Joseph, on the other hand, turned heads in his first professional season, playing 16 games with Pittsburgh, recording a goal and five points while playing very sound defensively while performing impressively on the offensive end.
Penguins Played a Part in Isles Drafting Barzal
How close was Mathew Barzal to becoming a Pittsburgh Penguin? In all reality, not very close, but closer than some might think.
As Barzal entered the 2015 NHL Draft as a high-tier prospect, the Penguins originally held the 16th overall pick. However, in January of 2015, the Pens made a deal to acquire David Perron from the Edmonton Oilers for their 2015 first-round pick and Rob Klinkhammer.
Months later, the Oilers sent that pick to the Islanders along with a second-round pick for prospect Griffin Reinhart, and the Isles selected the young phenom Barzal. Reinhart ended up playing just 29 games for the Oilers before bouncing around the league and eventually ending up with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.
Now, Barzal is a bonafide superstar for the Islanders, but the Penguins aren’t exactly kicking themselves for trading the pick. For one, who knows if the Penguins would’ve drafted Barzal given the chance and also, Perron was later traded for Carl Hagelin, who played a huge role in the Penguins’ back-to-back Cup runs in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The semifinals will kick off this Sunday as the Islanders and Lightning square off at 3 P.M., while the Golden Knights and Canadiens get their series underway on Monday at 9 P.M.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.