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The Pittsburgh Ice Stillers commence their Stanley Cup title defense against the “third best” team in the Metro Division, Columbus. The Pens recorded their third-best record in franchise history with 111 points, which not only wasn’t enough to win the division (piss off, Crapitals), but, has them playing the equally as good, Blue Jackets. The Jackets set a franchise-record with 108 points, obviously their best season ever, and their reward is the Pens in the First Round. Have I mentioned that the NHL playoff format is liquid poop?
Anyway, the Pens secured home-ice for the first round with, what became, their last regular season victory. This is a damn good thing, because the Ice Stillers are a juggernaut at
Consol Energy Center PPG Paints Arena this season, going 31-6-4. On the road, they were 19-16-7. This includes an 0-2-1 record at Nationwide Arena inColumbus. So, yeah. There’s that.
The biggest issue with the Ice Stillers is half their team looks like a MASH unit. They’ll already be without All-Star defenseman, Kris Letang (out with neck surgery, ewwww) for the entirety of the playoffs. They’re also currently without Evgeni Malken, defenseman Trevor Daley, forward Carl Hagelin, forward Bryan Rust, defenseman Olli Maata, forward Chris Kunitz, and, now, potentially, starting goaltender, Matt Murray. Hurrah. Malkin and Daley are supposedly ready to go, but, neither played in either of the team’s last two regular season games. Perhaps that was precautionary, or, maybe, they’re still not recovered.
As previously noted, the Jackets are experiencing the best season in their 17-year history (Christ… it’s already been 17 years?!). Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky had a career year, which just furthers my theory that any goaltender becomes geometrically better after they’ve left the Flyers. Jackets coach John Tortorella, and Pens coach, Mike Sullivan, are good friends, and each have a Cup win on their resume (Torts with Tampa in 2004). I can’t say I have an extensive knowledge (giggity) of Columbus, but, I do know they’re pretty young, very talented, fast, and damn physical. The latter is what may give them the advantage over the Ice Stillers. Both teams block a shit load of shots, but, Columbus brings the heavy way more than the Pens.
The Pens still have Sidney Crosby, who very well may win the Hart Trophy, as league MVP. They’ve also got forwards Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, Patrick Hornquinst, and emerging star, Jake Guentzel. Defenseman Justin Schultz, and forward, Connor Sheary, also set career-highs in goals scored, and total points. If the Pens can get Malkin and Daley back, watch out. Another deep playoff run is likely. On the other, if the injury bug continues to plague them, Columbus successfully rattles their cage with persistent physical play, and Marc-Andre Fluery has another playoff implosion, the Jackets will move on, possibly in a fairly quick series.
Personally, I think this is going to be a nail-biter of a series, with a couple of shootouts, and a few goaltender battles. The Pens are capable of scoring five or six any night. Columbus plays tough, and Bobrovsky is a worthy candidate for the Veniza Trophy. If the Jackets can get under the Pens’ skin, especially in the first couple of games, they’ll probably take this series. On the other hand, under Mike Sullivan, the Ice Stillers have displayed an even-keeled mentality, something that was missing under former coaches Dan Bylsmia, and Mike Johnston. Even though I’m a homer, I think home ice is the difference. Ice Stillers in seven.