Tonight's is a fairly important evening for anyone with a vested interest with the Pittsburgh Penguins. We will find out who and where the Penguins play in the second round. There are four possibilities, all with their pros and cons. We'll review each of the potential opponents and ask you which team do you want the Penguins to face.
What needs to happen for the Penguins to meet them: Wins by the Capitals and Devils.
2008-09 Record vs. Penguins: 2-1-1
- 1.) Downtime. After dispatching the Canadiens with ease in a sweep, the Bruins haven't played in roughly a week. Will all that time away from the rink make them rusty?
- 2.) Tim Thomas (above). Yes, he had a career year. Yes, he is a nominee for a Vezina Trophy. Yes, he has been an all-star. But does anyone really fear him as a legit playoff goaltender? Yes, he got a sweep in the first round but it was against a Montreal team with some serious malfunctions. If you were the Penguins, who would you rather face? Tim Thomas, Martin Brodeur or Cam Ward?
- 3.) Experience. Many think of the Penguins a young, green team but they did go to the Stanley Cup final last season. Only nine members of the Bruins have even been to a conference final in their careers. The Penguins have 20 players on their roster who have been to the third round or beyond.
- 4.) Jack Edwards. When he's not making obscene war references, Bruins television play-by-play guy Jack Edwards is amusing to us in a clownish type of way. We eagerly look forward to him comparing checks by Milan Lucic to Chalupas or power grids or something else that doesn't make sense in anyway shape or form.
- 1.) Rest. The flip side of the downtime argument is the rest Boston has enjoyed. Former Penguins defenseman Andrew Ference didn't play at all due to an undisclosed injury. And there are all sorts of unknown bumps and bruises the Bruins have had a chance to heal up.
- 2.) Depth. There might not be a team with more depth in all the NHL. How deep are the Bruins? Blake Wheeler, a rookie forward who scored 21 goals this season, is playing on their fourth line.
- 3.) Home ice. The Bruins will have the home ice advantage. At 29-6-6 during the regular season, the Bruins had the best record home record in the Eastern Conference.
- 4.) Physical play. Yeah, the Penguins just got by the always physical Flyers with out any notable injuries, but there's a difference in how the Bruins are physical in comparison to the Flyers. They're not stupid. Milan Lucic, Byron Bitz, Shawn Thornton, Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Shane Hnidy, Steve Montador, Mark Stuart Aaron Ward and others aren't afraid of anyone. But they know when to keep their bravado in check. The Penguins won't goad this team into anything stupid.
- 5.) Special teams. Admittedly it was against the inept Canadiens, but the Bruins' power play (25 percent) and penalty kill (100 percent) were tremendous in the first round. The Penguins can't afford to struggle on the power play against this team.
What needs to happen for the Penguins to meet them: Wins by the Capitals and Hurricanes.
2008-09 Record vs. Penguins: 3-0-1
- 1.) Simeon Varlamov (above, with Alex Ovechkin). He has come in under difficult circumstances and excelled marvelously. You could argue he's the reason the Capitals are in a position to win their series. But he's still a rookie. And he's not exactly facing an offensive dynamo in the Rangers. Even with a struggling power play, the Penguins would surely pick apart a rookie goaltender.
- 2.) Experience. This is another team the Penguins have a huge advantage against in terms of playoff experience. Of the 22 players who have suited up for the Capitals in the first round, they have a combined total of 594 career playoff games. That's an average of 27 games per player. The 21 Penguins who appeared in at least one game against the Flyers in the first round have a total of 1,005 games. That translates to an average of 48 games.
- 3.) Rest. Assuming they win, the Capitals will have played only one more game than the Penguins in the first round. But the Penguins will have at least five days of rest by the time the second round starts. The Capitals will have two at the most.
- 4.) Location, location, location. It wouldn't be quite like the regular season games the Penguins played, there would certainly be quite a few Yinzers in attendance in the Verizon Center Rocking the Red. That and we hope to might be able to get to cover some of the games down there and eat some crab dip at The Green Turtle alongside the Verizon Center on the company's dime. If you want us to gorge ourselves, and provide you with on the spot coverage, e-mail our editors.
- 5.) History. Granted Alex Ovechkin hasn't been a part of any Capitals-Penguins playoff battles, but do you really want to argue against the Penguins' track record versus the Capitals in the postseason?
- 1.) Home ice. Regardless of how many visiting fans show up and how much crab dip we can stuff down our mouths, home ice is home ice. The biggest tangible advantage is the ability to have final say on which players you want on the ice. If the Capitals feel John Erskine is a good match up against Sidney Crosby, they can put him on the ice with Crosby as much as they want.
- 2.) Head to head. The Penguins and Capitals played each other four times this season. The only time the Penguins won was when they edged the Capitals, 4-3, in a thrilling shootout win. At the time, Washington was in a bit of a funk and Ovechkin played with a slightly dinged up heel as well. In other words, they didn't get the Capitals at their best for that game and still had to go beyond regulation to pull out the win. The other three match-ups were fairly one-sided affairs in which the Penguins were outscored by a combined total of 15-8.
- 3.) Too much. The league has every obligation to promote this series as Crosby vs. Ovechkin. Or even Malkin vs. Ovechkin. Its one of the few individual matchups within the league that generates mainstream buzz. NBC and Versus would broadcast every game of the series possible. It would be riveting television. But from our standpoint, it would be an obnoxious soap opera. Every minor squabble would be blown out of propotion. Any perceived slight would be exaggerated.
- 4.) Offense. After getting stoned early by Henrik Lundqvist, the Capitals potent offense has simply worn down the Rangers' world-class goaltender to a pulp. While a lot of that is due to the Rangers' larger problems with dysfunction and discipline, Lundqvist is clearly not the same goaltender he was earlier in the first round. If they can do that to Lundqvist, an Olympic champion, imagine what they can they do to Marc-Andre Fleury.
New Jersey Devils
What needs to happen for the Penguins to meet them: Wins by the Devils and Rangers.
2008-09 Record vs. Penguins: 3-3-0
- 1.) Rest. Assuming they win, they will have less time off before the second round than the Penguins. And with forward Jamie Langenbrunner and Bryce Salvador dealing with injuries that caused them to miss some games, the Devils could use some rest.
- 2.) Martin Brodeur. Over the course of Brodeur's career the Penguins have historically given him the most trouble. In 65 career regular season games against the Penguins, the future Hall-of-Famer has a 2.75 goals against average and a rather weak save percentage of .887. Those are the highest and lowest totals respectively of Brodeur's career against any Eastern Conference franchise.
- 3.) Defense. This isn't your older cousin's Devils. There are no Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermayers or Brian Rafalskis or even Ken Danyekos on this team's blue line. Just a ho-hum crew of guys like former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin, Mike Mottau and Johnny Oduya.
- 4.) Power Play. You think the Penguins' power play is bad at 13.8 percent? The Devils are limping along at a 9.5 success rate.
- 1.) Martin Brodeur. Regardless of the Penguins success against him, he's still arguably the best goaltender in the sport, even at age 36. And he's won when it matters the most.
- 2.) Been there done that. Any experience the Penguins picked up last season terms of the postseason games is really not an advantage here. Players like Brodeur, Brendan Shanahan, John Madden, Patrik Elias (above), Langenbrunner and others have all gone through the postseason ringer. And unlike the Penguins, they have quite a few players on their roster with Stanley Cup rings.
- 3.) Home Ice Advantage. Again, the home team has the tangible advantage of putting out certain match-ups of its choice. And the Devils play in... you know... Newark. But that might not actually be an advantage.
- 4.) Coaching. Brent Sutter might not have a ton of NHL coaching experience, but he has oodles of postseason experience in junior hockey and won two World Junior Championship titles. Dan Bylsma has barely even a season of coaching experience at any level.
- 5.) Penalty Kill. The Devils' power-play issues are offset by a penalty killing unit that is sizzling at 94.5 percent.
What needs to happen for the Penguins to meet them: Wins by the Hurricanes and Rangers.
2008-09 Record vs. Penguins: 2-2-0
- 1.) Home ice. This is the only potential match-up for the Penguins in the second round that would afford them home ice and most importantly, mean fewer nights in the office for us.
- 2.) Rest. Again, the Penguins would have a huge edge in terms of time off. With Sergei Samsonov dinged up, the Hurricanes won't enter the second round near 100 percent.
- 3.) Mike Tomlin > Bill Cowher. The Penguins have Mike Tomlin sitting at the front row of games. Heck, he even has a personalized Penguins jersey hand made by Dana Heinze, the team's equipment manager. Bill Cowher and his pretty teeth are firing off hurricane sirens and is just in general, jumping on the bandwagon down there. And who would you rather have? A coach who took 14 years to win a Superbowl or one who needed all of two years to get a Vince Lombardi Trophy?
- 4.) Power play. At 5.3 percent, the Hurricanes' power play is the worst among Eastern Conference teams in the postseason.
- 1.) Experience. Much like the Devils, the Hurricanes have tons of players like Eric Staal, Rod Brind'Amour, Cam Ward and Erik Cole (above, with Staal) with Stanley Cup rings on the roster. And most of them won their hardware with the 2006 Hurricanes.
- 2.) Cam Ward. Ward has stared Martin Brodeur in the eye in the first round and hasn't blinked. He's a Conn Smythe Trophy winner and is as good as any NHL goaltender in the postseason when his game is on.
- 3.) Staals. Their Staal is a first-liner. The Penguins' is a third-liner. You do the math.
- 4.) Penalty kill. There just isn't a lot of power play goals in the New Jersey-Carolina series. Carolina has a kill rate of 90.5 percent.
So who do you want the Penguins to face? Let us know down below. And tune in later tonight as we attempt a daring double-live blog for each of tonight's games starting at approximately 7 p.m.
(Photos: Thomas-Elsa/Getty Images; Varlamov-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Elias-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images; Staal-Bruce Halverson/Getty Images)