Penguins take a 3-0 stranglehold

The Pittsburgh Penguins are continuing to play amazing hockey following an excellent regular season. In Ottawa, the Pens scored 3 third period goals to take the game 4-1 and increase their lead to 3-0 in the series. They are the only team in this year’s playoffs to win the first 3 games, with the Stars having a chance to match them today. The Penguins are one win away from their first playoff series victory in seven years. The Ottawa Senators will try to duplicate the feats accomplished by the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders, who are the only NHL teams to have erased 3-0 series deficits. An interesting note is there was a 33 year gap between those comebacks, and 2008 also marks 33 years since the last one.

Will history repeat itself?

The Pens are proving that offense can be the factor that wins games. In the first game, Crosby and Hossa were shutout, but Malkin shined. In the first two games, Malkin tallied 6 points, while in the last two games Hossa and Crosby have tallied 6 points. Those three currently lead the NHL in playoff scoring, all with 1 goal and 5 assists through 3 games. Who said offense doesn’t win games?

Well, for those that say defense and goaltending win games, let’s check out how the Pens have fared in that area.

After letting in 18 goals in 5 games last year versus the Senators (and 13 after 3 games), the Penguins have only allowed 4 goals in 3 games this year. There are many reasons for this: the improved defensive play of defensemen like Gonchar, Scuderi and noticeably Orpik, the all-around solid play of rookie Kris Letang, the long-reach of Hal Gill and his penalty killing prowess, and also the defensive, two-way play of guys like Crosby, Malkin but most noticeably Hossa. Case in point, on a Pens’ PP, the Sens manage to steal the puck and embarrass Malkin playing the point, but the fast back-checking of Hossa not only takes away the puck, but then he goes down to block the shot. What a pickup!

But all of this pales in comparison to the main reason for their improved defensive game:

The vastly improved play of Marc-Andre Fleury.

After going 1-4 with a 3.76GAA and a .880 SV% last season versus the Sens, Fleury has turned around his game, with the help of a more experienced, better defensive team, and is now leading the NHL with 3 wins and tied for 1st with a .956 SV% (tied with Turco) and a 2nd placed 1.34GAA (Turco in 1st after 2 games). [This excludes CuJo’s 1 game performance.] He also is tied for 1st with one shutout (joining Turco, Nabokov and Biron).

The first question is, do the Senators have enough in them to overcome a 3-0 deficit versus the Penguins? I think that answer is obvious. Brooks Orpik summarized it nicely here: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/penguins/s_562367.html

Ottawa, energized by playing at home for the first time in the series and the return of captain Daniel Alfredsson from a knee injury, was intent on making a statement in the first period. But Fleury turned aside each of the Senators’ 14 shots, and the Penguins entered the first intermission with confidence. “We kind of looked at it as a period won because we were 0-0,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “We said, ‘That’s the best they’ve got.’

Now I know many people will say the Pens are beating a rented mule (nod to Mike Lange) in the Senators, so we have to ask if the Pens can continue their success against a much better defensive team in the Rangers/Devils (if the Flyers win and Habs win). I personally don’t see the Caps (if they win and the Habs win) giving us any problems, as I’ve been adamant about on here for years. The only other matchup possibility would be against the Bruins were the Habs to falter, a strong possibility given the Bruins and Habs play in the last two games. Were the Habs to falter, I’m quite confident the Pens would be able to succeed where the Habs failed.

Anyways, it’s a good time to be a Penguins fan. All the cogs are clicking and this team is seriously raising eyebrows around the NHL. It’s time to watch out for them! Here’s to a 4 game sweep in Ottawa!