How the Penguins win: Few teams come close to Pittsburgh’s firepower and depth. And GM Ray Shero fixed the main problem: a lack of physicality. The Penguins prided themselves on team toughness, but needed to reassess after they were manhandled last year by Philadelphia. Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla have beefed up the flanks and Douglas Murray has added meat on the back end. Now no one will push the Pens around.
How the Islanders win: To make it past the first round, much less sniff the Stanley Cup, requires Evgeni Nabokov to continue his April renaissance and a whole lot of team luck to displace a heavily favored higher seed. Resurrecting David Volek from 1993, however, is more likely than a championship rapture for Islanders fans.
Round 1: PENS vs ISLES
(Pittsburgh wins series 4-2)
Game 1 Pit 5 NYI 0
*if necessary. All times Eastern
How the Penguins lose: If Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin is injured or Fleury has another post-season flameout. There’s no Jordan Staal to fill in for one of the team’s star centers and Tomas Vokoun has lost the only two playoff rounds of his career.
How the Islanders lose: Nabokov was mediocre the first three months of the season and New York was one of the league’s worst defensive teams before April 1. Then the Islanders fooled everybody and went on a 6-0-2 run, allowing no more than two goals in any game and just 10 total. Nabokov played in all of them, posting a 1.26 GAA and .948 SP.
Penguins goaltending: If Fleury fails, no one knows how Vokoun will do. Vokoun alternated between outstanding and awful. In January and March: 9-1-0, 1.55 GAA, .948 SP. In February and April: 2-3-0, 5.19 GAA, .827 SP.
Islanders goaltending: Nabokov has 80 games of playoff experience over nine post-seasons, getting to the second round five times and the conference final twice. The Isles need every bit of his wily veteran wit to pull any upsets.
Penguins question mark: Despite his team’s 26 goals in last year’s lone series against the Flyers, Fleury let in just as many, leaving him with a 4.63 GAA and .834 SP. Since winning the Cup in ’09, he’s won just one series out of four, going 12-14 with a 3.11 GAA and .880 SP.
Islanders question mark: John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have zero playoff experience. How they fare dictates whether the Islanders have any chance of success.
Penguins top three fantasy players: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz
Islanders top three fantasy players: John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes
Odds to win the Cup: Penguins: 6-1, Islanders: 75-1.
THE EDGE GOES TO…
Winner and why: The way the Islanders have scratched and clawed their way into the post-season this year, it’s almost unfair to have them play the mighty Penguins. The Pens are demonstrably better than the Isles in virtually every area of the game and handled John Tavares & Co. with relative ease in the regular season. Upsets are always possible, but even without a return by Sidney Crosby, it would take a massive collapse by Pittsburgh to have this go any other way but a Pens series victory. Penguins in 5.
© The Canadian Press, 2013