Another night in the books for the Stanley Cup playoffs and a little bit of focus comes into play. The Boston Bruins proved at least 85% of observers wrong by ousting the Buffalo Sabres and Jaroslav Halak stood on his head to keep the hope alive for the Montreal Canadiens in their series against the Washington Capitals, which now goes on to a decisive seventh game in DC.
What does that mean for the Pittsburgh Penguins?
Well, most meaningfully, two upsets (#7 Boston over #2 Buffalo and #7 Philadelphia beating #2 New Jersey) means when the teams in the East are re-seeded for the second round, Pittsburgh will have home-ice advantage in their second round series. That much, we know.
Unknown, for now, is the opponent. If #8 Monteal can pull the monumentual upset, the Penguins will be the highest remaining seed, and they'll play Les Habs. While this seems like a major coup to see the President Trophy Washington Capitals eliminated, it'll also be tough, because it'll mean that Halak has been arguably the best player so far in the first stage of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
A red-hot goalie that's nearly unbeatable is a tough task and Montreal's defense has done relatively well at limiting or all out shutting down the Caps best offensive players. You want to see that team, with that crowd behind them that is riding that wave? It's not enviable, that's for sure.
The other side of the coin is that the Caps push through and take the next game, thus guaranteeing themselves the lowest seed (which would be Philly in this scenario), meaning the Penguins get home-ice in a series against Boston.
Most people, myself included, left Boston dead in the water a long time ago. But beating a good team and a great goalie is no joke, and with the Matt Cooke / Marc Savard drama -- highlighted by Savard's likely return to the lineup -- will be a big challenge. Plus a couple of ex-Penguins in Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan have been two of Boston's best and most productive forwards, you think those guys won't be jacked up to stick it to Pittsburgh? Add in goalie Tuuka Rask, who's been stellar himself, and a host of good defensive players led by man-beast Zdeno Chara and Boston's not an easy opponent either.
We do know the Penguins will see another Northeastern division team in round 2. This team will have, at least, a very solid goalie who's playing great and some talent around him. We don't know who just yet, but that's fine too; Pittsburgh's likely to get almost a full week's rest to heal the bumps and bruises and, on paper, sport an advantage in the energy and health departments.
As we always caution, games aren't played on paper, so we'll wait and see what sorts out tomorrow night in Washington. All things considered, the Pens seemed on a collision course in Round 2 with either New Jersey (which needs to reminder was a team they didn't beat in 6 chances this season) or Buffalo with their solid team and Ryan Miller in front. That's been avoided, so no matter how the deck sorts out, one would have to think, on paper, luck and timing has smiled on Pittsburgh a little early in these playoffs.