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Ranking Potential Penguins Playoff Opponents, Worst to First



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Carolina Hurricanes

And so it is. The eight Eastern Conference teams are set, but the seeds are not. The Washington Capitals clinched over the weekend the New York Islanders lost. The Pittsburgh Penguins playoff picture is still murky like the Mon river after a week of rain, but their ticket to the dance is punched.

What comes next is anyone’s guess. The Penguins are most likely to fall into third place in the Metro Division or the second wild card, though the first wild card is also genuinely possible.

Washington owns the inside track on third place by virtue of their two games in hand and only three-point deficit. The Penguins and the Boston Bruins are tied with 97 points, but Boston also has a pair of games in hand. Given the streaky nature of the Bruins’ season, they could win their remaining games or lose them all.

The Penguins are unlikely to catch New York Rangers or Carolina Hurricanes atop the Metro. Both are seven points ahead of the Penguins with one game in hand. The Penguins have only five games left.

…so you’re saying there’s a chance?

Given the circumstances, the Penguins really only have three realistic scenarios and three likely opponents: the Florida Panthers (second wild card), the New York Rangers, and Carolina Hurricanes are both the potential wild-card or third place opponent. There isn’t a scenario by which the Pittsburgh Penguins will get home ice until the Eastern Conference Final, and that would require a couple of monumental upsets.

Hey, in the East, anything is possible this season.

Ranking Pittsburgh Penguins Potential Playoff Opponents, Worst to First

3. Florida Panthers

Nope. No way. Do not touch. Stay away. Run.

The Florida Panthers are decimating opponents with speed, skill, and grit. They also have great goaltending; if starter Sergei Bobrovsky falters, wunderkind Spencer Knight is itching for a chance.

Florida’s second line is Jonathan Huberdeau-Sam Bennett-Claude Giroux. There aren’t many lines in the NHL that can match their skill, let alone from a two-spot.

Maybe with a healthy Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust, or Rickard Rakell in place of Rust, the Penguins can keep pace. However, the Florida line has 25 points in its last eight games.

That’s just short of “Shock and Awe.”

The hockey axiom posits the time to catch a great team is in Round One, but the Penguins need to clean up their house. Or red-up their house, as the case may be. The Penguins have just three wins in their last 10 games, and the engine is sputtering before it turns over.

2. Carolina Hurricanes

Believe it or not, I believe the Penguins would have a tougher time in Round One with the Carolina Hurricanes, pending Frederik Andersen’s condition (his MRI on Monday was negative, per Sara Civian of The Athletic).

Here’s why: Experience, speed, and depth.

Carolina isn’t as stacked in the top six as their Metro Division rival New York Rangers, but Carolina knows how to win in the playoffs. What comes next will not be a shock nor require an adjustment period.

Like New York, Carolina has a vicious transition game and zippy defensemen to join the play.

I don’t believe regular-season records matter as much (remember the Capitals sweeping the season series against the Penguins, only to lose in the second season?) However, we can extrapolate based on how the teams play each other.

There’s something about Carolina that draws the Penguins into a perimeter free-skate. Can’t explain it. But the Penguins are 1-1-1 against Carolina, and each team has scored nine goals.

If Andersen is healthy, he’s typically very good in the playoffs. Toronto fans blamed the goalie who didn’t steal a series in his time up north, but he kept some loose Maple Leafs teams in the series, too.

1. New York Rangers

Not the team you expected as the best matchup, is it? Me neither. I know the Rangers are the consensus worst matchup, but the more and more I thought about it, the louder the columns and analysis of the last few years echoed. Everyone (including me) cited the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders.


Now, let me really explain the on-ice matchup. New York has a couple of weaknesses that are going to hinder them in the playoffs. The first is Gerard Gallant’s traditional lack of lockdown structure.

He’s a very good coach, but structure isn’t his calling card. As an NHL coach, his teams made the playoffs three times in nine seasons. They only once advanced past the first round (Vegas Golden Knights, Stanley Cup Final 2017-18). Gallant has not been a successful playoff coach outside of Marc-Andre Fleury and that magical run that faltered at the end.

Even that Vegas team yielded scoring chances by the Costco-sized barrel.

The second Penguins advantage is the Rangers’ bottom six. Barclay Goodrow is a legit third-line on every team and a Stanley Cup winner. There’s a lot to like about the speedy third-line center Filip Chytil.

But Dryden Hunt, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kappa Kaako are the other wingers in the bottom six. Those guys are talented, but are they proper bottom-sixers? I like the Penguins matchup, at least on paper, with Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger, and Brian Boyle.

I think the Penguins will have the ability to get the puck deep and grind the Rangers. If Adam Fox must turn to defend, he’s a lot less dangerous than with his head up and the puck on his stick.

He’s downright scary in the latter.

Of course, none of this matters if the Penguins don’t get their game together. The more words I type, the more it seems the Penguins will go as far as Evgeni Malkin can take them–they need a second line to support the work of Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. The Penguins are competing but losing to good teams. We explained a good bit about why the Penguins are losing on Sunday.

Everything is predicated on the Penguins flipping the switch for one more good run.

It just may be the last.

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7 months ago

I’d rate best match up for Pens victory as Carolina then the Rangers. Agreed not a hope in hell against the Cats who they will likely play in the second round if they advance. Just my 2 cents.

7 months ago

1. Carolina
2. Florida
3. Rangers


[…] Pittsburgh: Ranking the potential playoff opponents who could end up facing the Pittsburgh Penguins. […]


[…] So who’s the best matchup for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup […]

Alan Smith
7 months ago

No one is that good! 32 teams in the NHL! Salary Caps! No exceptional goalies! Pucks bouncing everywhere and rebounds galore! If they can avoid the finish your checks the NHL loves they always have a chance!

Brandon o
Brandon o
7 months ago

The optimist in me sees a scenario where they shock the east with a couple of playoff upsets. This late season slump being a mirage as the aging vets were simply conserving the fuel, waiting to empty the tanks in may. A deep run to show the fans they still have it, and momentum to retool for next year. The big trio keeping it together to ride off into the sunset with dignity… Reality tells me that there is no proverbial “switch” to turn on when it matters. Historically, a slumping team whimpers out of the playoffs against the cream… Read more »

Last edited 7 months ago by Brandon o
7 months ago

As I’ve said before, if the team puts in the effort there’s no bad result for me. As for opponents, if I were to choose, it would be the NYR. I’d always go for a young team with zero playoff experience. I know, there are players on the roster with some, but as a team NYR has seen the least playoff action. Actually, I can’t remember when was the last time. And for what seems a bit more probable, bring on the Canes or the Panthers. I don’t really see them as teams that would run us over. This is… Read more »