Tonight's a pretty important night for anyone with a vested interest in the Penguins. The final two Eastern Conference quarterfinal series could be wrapped up and we could find out who the Penguins play in the semifinal round. There are four possibilities and they each have their pros and cons.
We'll review each of the four and ask who you would like to see the Penguins' face:
3.) Buffalo Sabres
1.) Sidney Crosby > Ryan Miller: Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller (above) is among the elite at his position. That's why he's a favorite for the Vezina Trophy. But the guy has trouble with the Penguins, specifically Sidney Crosby. Two of Crosby's most famous goals - the shootout winner in the 2008 Winter Classic and the overtime winner for Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics - came with Miller defending the net. And his career numbers are poor against the Penguins. All-time, he is 4-6-3 with a 3.22 goals against average and .884 save percentage.
2.) Downtime: For the Sabres to even advance to the second round, they need to extend their current series with the Bruins to seven games. Considering they're already beat up with injuries to Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht, the Penguins would have a huge advantage in terms rest having wrapped up their series with the Senators Saturday.
3.) History: The Penguins have never lost a playoff series against the Sabres. They won a 1979 preliminary round, 2-1, and a 2001 Eastern Conference semifinal round, 4-3.
1.) Home ice advantage: The Sabres would have home ice-advantage for the series as the Eastern Conference's No 3. seed.
2.) One-goals games: The Penguins may have run up a 3-1-0 record against the Sabre this season, but it wasn't easy. All four games were won by a one-goal margin. And the first game, a 2-1 Penguins win in December, was in a shootout. Not that any potential opponent at this level of the postseason should be an expected pushover, but the Sabres gave the Penguins fits this season.
3.) NBC: Two of the healthiest hockey markets in the United States would surely draw the attention of NBC sports overlord Dick Ebersol and his gargantuan forehead. And the ability to play up a match-up of Canadian hockey hero Sidney Crosby and United States hockey hero Ryan Miller would surely appeal to that coveted xenophobe market. And there's that whole "NBC-hates-viewing-parties" thing.
6.) Boston Bruins
1.) Offense: With Marc Savard's (above) health still questionable, the Bruins just don't have the offense to go goal-for-goal with the Penguins. Heck, even before Savard was injured, the Bruins were struggling on offense. Boston's 196 goals in this past regular season were the least in the NHL.
2.) Home ice: The Penguins would have home-ice advantage in a potential series between these two teams.
3.) Downtime: Even if the Bruins wrap up their series with the Sabres tonight, the Penguins will still have the advantage of two day's rest on them.
1.) Big Bad Bruins: While it's not like Terry O'Reilly or Stan Jonathan are still out there challenging everyone to a fight, the Bruins have extracted some serious punishment on the Sabres in the first round. With the likes of Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic, the Bruins are not afraid to take it to anyone physically. After a physical series with the Senators in which the Penguins saw Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Leopold go down to the expert hands of Ottawa defenseman Andy Sutton, the Penguins could afford to face an opponent with a little less muscle.
2.) Tuukka Rask: Rask has been one of the best goaltenders in these playoff so far. With a 2.03 goals against average and .933 save percentage in the quarterfinal round, he has been superb against the Sabres who admittedly, don't have the best offense in the NHL. Regardless, he's put the Bruins in a position to win every game.
2.) The "revenge" storyline: The Penguins-Bruins game in Boston March 18 was blown up to seem like a 12-round heavyweight slugfest, it failed to live up to those lofty aspirations. Despite that, any potential meetings between these two will once again be propped up as pure and simple chance at revenge on Matt Cooke for his hit which injured Marc Savard in March. Never mind that both of these two teams are trying to win a playoff series. The Cooke-Savard storyline will be rammed down your throat. And combined with the fac that these are two healthy United States television hockey markets, this is an inviting match-up for NBC.
7.) Philadelphia Flyers
1.) Dominance: Outside of one win by the Flyers in January when the Penguins were in the midst of a slump that saw them lose seven of nine games, the Penguins dominated the Flyers for the most part this past season going 5-1-0 and outscored them, 24-16. And that was before the Flyers were ravaged with injuries to the likes of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne.
2.) Marc-Andre Fleury: No team has done more to pad the stats of Marc-Andre Fleury than the Flyers. In regular season play, he has a career record of 19-6-0 with 2.67 save percentage and .909. Those 19 win are the most against any one team in Fleury's career. And who are you going to pick in a potential Marc-Andre Fleury-Brian Boucher (above) goaltending duel?
3.) Home ice: The Penguins would have home-ice in a potential match-up with the Flyers.
1.) Downtime: Even with the serious foot injuries to Carter and Gagne, the Flyers have been sitting and waiting for the rest of the Eastern Conference to get things settled since Thursday when they beat the Devils in Game 5 of their quarterfinal series. That's a lot of downtime to rest some battered bodies.
2.) Getting physical: If there's one thing the Flyers do consistently well, it's playing physical. Arron Asham, Daniel Carcillo and Chris Pronger would get their pound of flesh. Regardless of how this potential series would end up, both teams would be worn out by the end.
3.) NBC: Once again: Two healthy United States television markets. A real, legit rivalry. This would be great television for any broadcaster.
8.) Montreal Canadiens
1.) Defense: To put it kindly, the Canadiens' goaltending in their first-round series has been... less than stellar. It's had a few moments where it's been outstanding such as in Games 1 and 5. But in between, Jaroslav Halak (above) and Carey Price have served as shooter-tutors for the Capitals. And the Capitals have generated 39.2 shots per game on Canadiens. Granted,
the Capitals have the best offense in the league, but 39 shots per game?
In the playoffs? We saw what the Penguins did to the Senators and their
shaky goaltending. What would they do to the Canadiens'?
2.) Home ice: The Penguins would have home-ice in a potential match-up with the Canadiens.
3.) Downtime: If there's anything NBC hates more than quality programming, it's anything that's "un-American." We don't care if Sidney Crosby was doing guest-spots on "The Apprentice." The Peacock wouldn't touch any matchup involving a Canadian team with Jay Leno's chin.
1.) Power-play: A hallmark of the Canadiens is excellence on the power play. This season's team is no different with. It's only connecting at a percentage of 18.2 percent in the first round, but the Habs did convert 21.8 percent of their man-advantage chances in the regular season, second-most in the NHL. With the Penguins' penalty kill all of a sudden looking like a liability, this could be a potential mismatch.
2.) Penalty killers: Despite their overall defensive struggles, the Canadiens have managed to limit the mighty Capitals power play to one goal on 24 chances in the quarterfinal round. If they can do that to a Washington unit which was the best in the regular season, what can they do to the Penguins who have been inconsistent (to be kind) with the man advantage?
3.) Montreal: A lot of the Quebecois on the team have admitted to getting a little bit of an extra charge when they play in Montreal. That feeling could be amplified with a playoff atmosphere. Would playing in front of their own people cause Pascal Dupuis to get visions of Guy Lafleur and begin blasting wild slappers from wings? Oh wait... he does that already....
(Photos: Miller-Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press; Savard-Keith Srakocic/Associated Press; Boucher-Elise Amendola/Associated Press; Halak-Greg Fiume/Getty Images)