PA Hockey in Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are both headed to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. While both teams struggled early in the season and Pittsburgh dealt with a coaching change in mid-December, the players and coaches seem to have found their chemistry when it mattered. The Pens will look to utilize their star studded roster and offensive prowess to advance deep into the playoffs, but goaltending could prove problematic. The Flyers will have to play with a nothing-to-lose mentality if they want to have any chance of advancing past the first round.

The Pens will face off against the New York Rangers for the third straight year in the playoffs, a truly battle tested opponent who reached the Eastern Conference finals twice and made one Stanley Cup playoff since 2012. Although the Rangers have knocked the Penguins out of the playoffs in the past two years, the season series between the two went in favor of Pittsburgh, 3-1.

While the task of getting the puck through Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will prove difficult, the Penguin’s size, speed and strength will be a handful for the injury riddled Rangers defense. Pittsburgh’s offense is remarkable under Coach Mike Sullivan, who has led his team to averaging an NHL best 3.84 goals per game. Sidney Crosby, who started the season with a measly five points in the month of October, had critics judging whether or not he was drying up. He proved them wrong. Crosby finished the regular season in third place in points, only behind Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Dallas’ Jamie Benn.

For Pittsburgh, while the offense needs to continue to flourish, it may come down to goaltending to advance past the Rangers. Marc Andre-Fleury remains sidelined with a concussion suffered on March 31 and backup Matt Murray was taken out of the game against Philadelphia after being hit. The Pens would prefer not to start third string goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who has played in only 35 NHL games, or rookie goaltender Tristan Jarry. If Fleury or Murray return early in the series, the odds are in favor for Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia secured the final wild card position with a win against Pittsburgh on Saturday, April 9. The team will have an extremely difficult task of taking on the best team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals. The Caps led the NHL in points (120) with a regular season record of 56-18-8 behind Forward Alex Ovechkin, who registered his third straight, seventh all time, 50 goal season.

Washington’s offense isn’t the only thing Philadelphia needs to worry about. Braden Holtby, Washington’s starting goaltender, has been one of the best in the NHL. Holtby is allowing an average of 2.20 goals per game with a .922 save percentage and totaled 48 wins on the season. However, Holtby and the Capitals split the season series with Philadelphia, two games apiece. In those games Holtby averaged 2.21 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Both of Philadelphia’s wins came in overtime against the Caps.

Things look bleak for the Flyers against this Capitals team, but nothing is impossible. The Flyers finished out the regular season with a 15-6-2 run to make it to the playoffs. In that stretch they outscored their opponents 63-53, averaging almost three goals on 33 shots per game. The offense will need to get the puck in front of the net, while the defense needs to remain disciplined. Specifically, the Flyers do not want to commit penalties and allow Ovechkin and the Capitals to fire the puck at goaltender Steve Mason. If this happens, the Flyers 22nd ranked penalty kill will be the undoing of this team in the post season. Regardless of penalties, Mason will need to stand on his head in this series. Washington ranks second in goals per game (3.02), second in goals against per game (2.33) and fifth on the power play (21.9 percent). It will not be an easy task for Philadelphia to advance.

Pittsburgh fans should be supporting the city of Philadelphia in their Stanley Cup matchup. The winner of the Philadelphia-Washington series will go on to play against the winner of the Pittsburgh-New York series. This year, a possible “Battle for PA” certainly favors Pittsburgh. However, if Philadelphia does not advance and Pittsburgh does, Penguins fans should hope the Flyers can roughen up the Capitals before the next round.

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