The Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals after finishing off an emotionally charged series against the Washington Capitals.
The Tampa Bay Lightning await them in what should be an exciting series with tons of skill on display. When a team gets this far anything can happen, from hot streaks to freakish bounces. At the beginning of the playoffs I made a list of Penguins’ predictions. After eight wins, and looking for another eight, now is as good a time as any to speculate again about the future of the Penguins.
Pittsburgh Will Need to Find Something to Hate
Due to a rich history of vicious battles, it was easy for the Penguins to hate the New York Rangers and the Capitals. But there isn’t quite that emotional connection with the Lightning.
— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) May 11, 2016
Pittsburgh vs Tampa Bay will be an exciting display of speed and skill, but with no Marc Staal, Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Ovechkin, or Tom Wilson, the series will be lacking the ferocity that we have seen in recent weeks. However, I have a feeling that Jonathan Drouin will become a villain. Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman should return during this series which gives Tampa Bay a huge lift, and something for the Penguins to focus on.
Sid and Geno Will Be Better
Trotz: “I thought we did a real good job on Crosby and Malkin the whole series, but a lot of the other people hurt us.”
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 11, 2016
As Washington Coach Barry Trotz stated, the Capitals did a great job neutralizing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In the past, shutting down these two was the best way to send the Penguins golfing. But the Lightning had to be watching and realizing that this doesn’t work anymore.
Pittsburgh is too deep with way too many weapons. Tampa Bay will not be able to focus on the two-headed monster and as a result they will gain more freedom. Not to mention that the Lightning don’t play the same brutish style employed by the Capitals, and this alone will allow Sid and Geno to play their game.
The only possible hindrance would be a potential injury to Malkin. Since returning from his elbow injury, Malkin has not been himself. The skill and creativity have been there, and at times the shot, but you have to admit that there is something missing that makes Geno such a threat.
Kucherov and Johnson Will Be Scarier Than Ovechkin and Backstrom
Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom had their moments, but they really didn’t have the impact on the series that most expected. Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson will likely prove to be a much more productive opponent.
Players still in #NHL playoffs: Points per game
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) May 10, 2016
Points per 60 mins: Players still in #NHL playoffs
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) May 9, 2016
Kucherov and Johnson have been here before, and will be focused on scoring points, rather than physical disruption. They will both be a thorn in the Penguins side, particularly Kucherov.
Conor Sheary Will Thrive
Sheary has already proven to be an impact player in the NHL, but I think that he suffered from the physical nature of the Capitals series. He has been compared favorably to the aforementioned Tyler Johnson, and that still holds true.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 23, 2016
He will continue to play alongside Crosby, and the two will have a breakout series against Tampa Bay.
Matt Murray Will Continue His Winning Ways
Matt Murray is twenty-one going on thirty-one. The kid truly has ice in his veins, never flinching during two high-profile playoff series. Despite some media-driven controversy prior to Game 6, Murray’s job as the Penguins’ starting netminder was never in doubt.
Oshie with a great shot. Murray with a better save pic.twitter.com/K5Hy9zKUaw
— CAPITALS HILL (@CapitalsHill) May 5, 2016
The job is Murray’s to lose, but it doesn’t look like he will be doing that any time soon. He has stolen games, and recovered nicely when he gave up a bad goal. There is no reason to believe that the added pressure will change anything that he has been doing.
Penguins in Five
So far I have made predictions with some accuracy. I guessed that the Penguins would defeat the Rangers and Capitals both in 6 games (Rangers went down in 5, Capitals in 6). Tampa Bay will be a different kind of series, but the results will be the same in the end.
Reading between the lines, Vegas thinks the Penguins are twice as likely to win this series as the Lightning are. Pens are huge favorites.
— Ben Livingston (@937TeenWolf) May 11, 2016
I have nothing but respect for what the Lightning have accomplished, especially without two of their best players. But in a matchup that will be a great contest of skill vs skill, the Penguins will outmatch Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh will out-coach them, and out-play them. It will be fun to watch, but when the chips are down, Pittsburgh is just the superior team.
Your 2015-2016 Washington Capitals pic.twitter.com/Dvhay0dFu0
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 11, 2016
The above Ovechkin gif has nothing to do with this article, I just think it’s too funny.
Until next time.
Greg is a Pittsburgh Penguins writer for ‘The Hockey Writers’.
He is a Pittsburgh area native who has written for multiple Penguins news and opinion sites. In addition to hockey writing, he is also an experienced YouTube creator.
Greg started with THW in 2015 as a Blue Jackets writer, and spent time as a Fantasy Hockey analyst.