Penguins Begin Quest for Third Consecutive Cup

penguins jube

Dana Lane

Monday, April 9, 2018 5:22 PM GMT

Monday, Apr. 9, 2018 5:22 PM GMT

Pittsburgh is the third choice, behind Tampa Bay and Boston, to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. In reality, are the Pens the team to beat?

[/]{"component": "embedHTML", "code": "

The 2018 #StanleyCup Playoffs begin April 11. https://t.co/nIUYoHZjaQ pic.twitter.com/HrAfPJvhO5

— NHL (@NHL) April 9, 2018
\n\n"}[/]

You have to wonder what the excuse will be this postseason as the Pittsburgh Penguins attempt to win their third championship in as many years. Last year it was there were too many injuries on the back end. The year before that, the public said Pittsburgh was too soft. I’ve yet to hear the push-back on why not this year. On the NHL odds board Pittsburgh is the third choice in the conference, but as far as I’m concerned, with my NHL picks the Penguins are once again the team to beat in the East.

Maybe it’s their potential path; Philadelphia, Columbus and Boston sounds better than Anaheim, Vegas and Winnipeg. The latter means by the time you get to the Stanley Cup Final you’ve been beaten up by the toughest and the biggest teams in the West, and then you’re potentially going to asked to keep up with a fast Penguins team that rolls out three lines that can legitimately hurt you.

The playoffs begin Wednesday night with the Penguins (-220 series price) home against the Philadelphia Flyers. No team in the postseason has the depth and firepower to match Pittsburgh, which is so loaded it can put Phil Kessel, a 92-point scorer, on the third line with Conor Sheary and Riley Sheahan. Pittsburgh has three top-10 scorers in Sidney Crosby (89 points), Evgeni Malkin (98) and Kessel. Claude Giroux hit the century mark this season for the Flyers, but Philly's next-best offering is Jakub Voracek with 85 points. There isn’t a team in the league that puts more quality pressure on opposing goaltenders than the Penguins.

The remaining Eastern Conference series begin Thursday, including the Boston Bruins (-155) hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boston is healthier than they were last year although they still are missing Bandon Carlo, Riley Nash and Anders Bjork. Rick Nash should be ready to play after it was revealed that he suffered a concussion.

I’m interested to see how the Bruins react to their late-season slide, causing them to lose the top seed to Tampa Bay. Boston lost four of their last five games. I don’t have as much confidence in the Bruins as I did a few weeks ago, but the fact is that Boston can beat you in many ways and can play any type of game the opposition brings. Picking up Ryan Donato will continue to pay dividends as he continues to give the third line an unexpected shot in the arm.

Tampa Bay received a gift from in-state rival Florida, which beat Boston on Sunday and made Tampa Bay the No. 1 seed. The Lightning (-300) will face wild-card New Jersey in the opening round.

The glaring difference between these teams, besides talent, is the lack of playoff experience for the Devils. Jersey reminds me of a seed that has just been planted, while Tampa Bay’s roots run deep in postseason history. The Devils have 11 players without playoff experience, including starting goaltender Keith Kinkaid. Lightning players have 1,145 combined postseason games under their belts, while New Jersey has 590. I’m sure you get the point.

I’m not a huge home-ice advantage guy because I think in many cases it’s better to start on the road, but I’m a big believer in betting on teams that have a clear special-teams advantage, which Tampa Bay does. The Lightning's home power play has a 24-percent success rate (No. 1 in the league) compared to the Devils' road success of 15.7 percent (27th). I think the Devils will give the Lightning a better series than most think.

Columbus coach John Tortorella is probably exhaling somewhere in the bowels of Nationwide Arena as his club escaped a date with Pittsburgh. Instead, the Blue Jackets get to play the Washington Capitals (-175). We can’t pick all favorites in the East so here’s your first upset. The Jackets might secretly be grateful for avoiding the Penguins, for now, but at the same time they should be thanking Pittsburgh for giving Columbus a blueprint of what a champion looks like after disposing the Blue Jackets in five games last season.

Columbus was just 1-3 against Washington this season, the lone victory a 5-1 rout in February. The three other games were close; Washington won twice by a goal and once by two goals. The Capitals are statistically superior offensively, but over the last month the Jackets were ranked No. 1 in scoring, so there's an indication they are ready to match the Capitals' diluted firepower. There are still too many question marks when it comes to Washington's goaltending tandem of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer.

First-Round Projections:Penguins over Flyers (In 5)Bruins over Maple Leafs (6)Lightning over Devils (7)Blue Jackets over Capitals (5)Best Lines Offered: BovadaBet On Stanley Cup Futures At SBR's Top-Rated Sportsbooks
comment here