Do the Penguins have enough to make yet another Stanley Cup run?
Glendon: Just like the New England Patriots in the NFL and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA, you can never count out the Penguins. Especially with the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel leading the way. With that said, the East’s top teams may prove insurmountable. Primarily the way the Bruins are playing. Although teams like the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs could give them a run for their money.
D’Abate: The Penguins always seem to be a strong candidate to make the finals. This year, on the other hand, they are a clear third in the East, behind Boston and Tampa Bay. However, it is very difficult to count out a team that employs Sidney Crosby from a race for the title. I think the road is much tougher this year for the Penguins, but I do believe they have the mettle to make a run for the Cup once again.
Kading: Without a shadow of a doubt. When they added Derick Brassard from Ottawa at the deadline, that was Pittsburgh’s signal that they believe that their roster is good enough to win the entire thing. With a third line consisting of Brassard and Patrik Hornqvist, it’s obvious the talented depth is there. If the Penguins fall this postseason due to bad play, much of it likely comes from Matt Murray, who didn’t play the minutes of a traditional #1 goalie during last year’s playoffs. However, Murray is excellent when healthy, and it’s a lot easier to bet on him than against him.
Gesterling: I would say no. On paper they look like a strong candidate to make the finals again. But I just think the Penguins are the third best team in the Eastern Conference currently. I think Tampa Bay and Boston are going to be strong competition. I can see a situation where the Penguins get bounced in round one or two with as deep as the Eastern Conference is at the top.
Welcher: Pittsburgh has been iffy this entire season, and they are only five points from being out of the playoffs. They have left me with many questions, especially when you look back at some of the games this team has had. I also feel like a defending Cup champion should be a contender unless the team was completely dismantled over the offseason, which this team hasn’t. They could, but I don’t think that they will make the Conference Finals.
Which two teams will earn the wildcard spots in the East and West?
Glendon: In the East, the New Jersey Devils have really put separation between themselves and the Florida Panthers. With two of their final four games coming against the Boston Bruins, it will be tough to climb that hill. The Devils and Flyers will earn the two wildcard spots.
In the West, the Ducks catapulted the Kings in the standings by virtue of their come-from-behind overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado, by gaining a point, moved into the final wildcard spot with a matchup with the Kings awaiting. Ultimately, I think the Kings and Blues, one of the hottest teams the last couple weeks, will earn the two wildcard spots.
D’Abate: In the Eastern Conference, I think that the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils each find their way into the playoffs. It was tough to leave Florida on the cutting room floor, but it appears that injuries and prior losses just seem to be too much to overcome.
Kading: In the east, I’m going with Philadelphia and Columbus. It’s a crapshoot between those two and New Jersey as to who gets the wild card spots, and since both have a point in hand over New Jersey, I’m sticking with them.
In the west, I’m going with St. Louis and Los Angeles. I still don’t see a reason why I should trust Colorado, who has a point on the Blues but one more game played, over a Blues team that always seems to find a way in. Colorado’s had an impressive season, especially given how bad they were last year, and missing the playoffs by a point isn’t a failure by any stretch.
Gesterling: In the Eastern Conference, my prediction is Philadelphia and New Jersey. I just think Florida has shot themselves in the foot with key losses the last couple of weeks. I don’t think there is enough time to catch up. But Florida deserves the credit they had a pretty good season.
In the Western Conference, my prediction is St. Louis and Colorado with the Anaheim Ducks as the odd team out. It is just a gut feeling really. I think St. Louis will be a safe pick but I can see a battle to the end with the Avs and Ducks and I don’t really like the makeup of the Ducks this year.
Welcher: In the East, I have Pittsburgh and New Jersey in the bottom two spots. Pittsburgh has been streaky this year, and I’m just not too high on New Jersey right now. Jersey has some good pieces, and Pittsburgh is, well, Pittsburgh, but I don’t see either of them in the top three of the Metro, after all, is said and done.
In the West, I feel like Los Angeles and Colorado will be the last two in. Anaheim would take the third spot in the Pacific, and Minnesota holds their ground against St. Louis. Colorado surprised me by playing how they did after trading Duchene, and it made me feel like it was more Duchene holding the Avs down than anything else.
As for L.A., I don’t think they’re a bad team, I just don’t think they have enough to hold that third spot. Anaheim tends to get into team’s heads more as the season goes on, and I feel like they might use that to get back into the top three. I don’t see anything too special in St. Louis, and that pushes them out for me this late in the season.