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Penguins Playoff Roundtable

With the playoffs looming, we put together some of the brightest hockey minds in Pittsburgh to gather some opinions on the Penguins heading into the postseason.

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The Penguins are in the playoffs. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite a dreadful slide through April and playing with 5 defensemen for a majority of games down the stretch, the Penguins were able to qualify for the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We thought it would be fun (as our friends at The Pensblog have done in the past) to piece together a little roundtable with some of the brightest and best hockey minds in Pittsburgh, to get a wide range of opinions and perspective on what things are looking like headed into the postseason.

If I am allowed just a moment of full disclosure, I began putting this piece together on March 31st. I decided to put it on a brief hiatus to wait until there was a clearer picture of who the Penguins opponent in the playoffs would be. Then i put it on a little bit longer hiatus to make sure the Penguins were going to be in the playoffs. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, guys.

So, without further rambling from myself, allow me to introduce everyone who's gonna be involved here.

I put together a short list of questions to pick their brains, and have any thoughts of my own italicized under their answers. So uh, yeah, here we go.

1. We saw how the Penguins came so close to missing the playoffs. Do you think there would have been major organizational changes if they missed? Would they have been deserved?

Gretz: If losing in the Eastern Conference Final and the second round of the playoffs is considered a failure I can't even imagine what missing the playoffs would have meant. Anarchy in the streets, probably. Hell, even if (when) they lose in the playoffs the potential for major changes is certainly there. Coach? General manager  Players are always changed. I'm sure it is all on the table.

The "should" question is the important one. And for me, that answer is an easy one. No. When I think "major" changes from a player perspective I'm picturing the big-three: Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and moving any of those three is absolute insanity to me.

I disagree with some of Mike Johnston's player usage at times, but even Mike Babcock has his blind spots for particular players, as every coach does, but I can't put the last month of the season on him. In early March this was one of the best defensive teams in the league, and when it didn't have to replace all of its good players with bad players due to injury it looked as good as any team in the East (remember how confident people were in early March when they went on a 7-1-1 run and swept Anaheim and Los Angeles back-to-back?). Amazing how quickly perception changes. They still have flaws. They still need some work around the edges, as they have for at least three years now. But you don't move the foundation when it's as good as this foundation. This isn't a team that needs major changes, the past 20 games be damned.

Spot on, Adam. The organization has put itself in a position where sweeping changes followed long-term regular season success and playoff failures. It does make you wonder what would've happened if the Pens had fallen short. I do agree though, that the team needs tweaking and can do so in an offseason where contracts are coming off of the books and changes can be made.

Yohe: I still think there will be major changes in the organization, unless the Penguins shock the world and upset the Rangers. Is Mike Johnston safe? And his staff? Tough to say, but I wouldn’t be totally comfortable were I in their shoes, even though I think they’ve done a good enough job to deserve another season. Is Jim Rutherford safe? Is he even coming back next season? No one knows for sure. Is the rather large group of assistant GMs returning intact next season? I wouldn’t bet on that.
Should there be changes? I’m leaning toward yes, though not regarding the coaching staff. The Penguins don’t feel like they’re headed in the right direction. There was a sloppy feel to how last summer’s changes were made. The organization is currently operating in a dysfunctional fashion.

Dysfunctional fits the Penguins in many ways. Especially their recent stretch of only being able to play with 5 defensemen. I put that on management and the twelve assistant GM's more than anyone else. Unacceptable.

Metzer: My feeling is that there will be changes regardless of the playoff berth that the team locked up on the final day of the season. Those changes might have come a bit sooner had they missed the playoffs all together, but they could still be coming. The decision makers might change their view on a couple of those based on this postseason run, but it would seem that the way things played out down the stretch locked in the fates of more than a few in the organization. It is clear that the cap has been mismanaged a bit and that for all the depth that was acquired, there still wasn’t enough of it in the right places to offset the significant injuries that plagued the team over the final two months. That lack of foresight is not forgotten because the team got into the postseason. It would not be all that shocking to see some new faces steering the hockey operations ship come the NHL Draft in Sunrise Florida in June.

Brian's opinion really ties in here well with what Josh just had to say, especially regarding the new faces at the draft, and what was said about the assistant GM's. Regardless of what happens this coming series, it will be interesting to say the least to see what steps management take moving forward.

Marshall: I think most people viewed this as a bizarre type of transitional season. All in all, this was just another in a long line of injury riddled campaigns. There was a lot of promise shown in how this team operated at full capacity. I think any drastic move that involved trading one of Malkin or Letang would have been quite reactionary. Shakeup's aren't bad, especially when they can improve your roster, but unloading star players just for the sake of change isn't a good idea in the least.

Agreed. There's nothing wrong with shakeups, and there's even less wrong with them when you can do it without making trades. Look at the free agents potentially coming off of the books and who is in the pipeline to replace some of them (Martin and Ehrhoff, Pouliot and Harrington, etc) and it makes little sense to consider 'blowing up' this team.

Meesh: Absolutely and no.  Despite what anyone in and around the organization will say now, it would have shocked me if a potential loss of money didn’t lead to complete overreactions through the entire organization. The Penguins have been a cash cow for several years now and the man at the top (Burkle) is not in this to lose money. This isn’t Buffalo, where owner Terry Pegula has admitted he doesn’t care about the money and that he just wants to own a franchise and do what it takes to turn it into a winner.  This is Pittsburgh, where winning (and revenue) is expected every year right now.  I believe a lot of changes would have been forced, starting from (if not with) the top of the organization and trickling all the way down to several players (but not the core of Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Fleury in my opinion).

That being said, I don’t think they would have been positive changes necessarily. This was going to be a transition year with a new GM and coaching staff.  Those changes aren’t often made seamlessly and plenty has been said about what Shero and Bylsma left behind in the organization.  It would have been completely unfair to a) force the new regime to succeed in just one year without a full chance at pursuing their vision and b) force a rookie head coach to successfully navigate his first year while learning on the fly and dealing with injuries, roster management issues, and the overall transition.

All of that being said, I’m not sure everyone is out of the woods yet just because the team made it to the playoffs.  The optics of this series could certainly still have an impact on the future.

Cash is king. Billionaires hate losing money more than anyone, and I firmly believe that while the Penguins do not need the playoff revenue, the lack of it would've led to changes in some manner at some organizational level. I have no idea whom or where, but somewhere.

Colligan: Yes. Yes. And there will probably still be major changes, but only because last summer’s hiring process wasn’t effective in the first place. It’s easy to fire people, but not as easy to hire people.  Jim Rutherford said he wasn’t contacted until a couple weeks into the process, which not only meant he wasn’t on the initial list of candidates but also left him with very little time to get up to speed before the draft and free agency.  Changing the direction of a franchise takes months, not weeks or days.

Please draft another young forward as soon as you can.

Miller: I think there may have been a front office shake up of some kind, and I still feel like that may be necessary. Having four General Managers may have some advantages, but who is really calling the shots? And the way the salary cap was handled down the stretch seemed to confirm that perhaps the ship isn't sailing as smoothly as anticipated. Maybe there are more defined roles that we don't know about, but I'm a fan of accountability. Having all these hands in the pot seems like a blanket for when shit hits the fan.

So true. As far as public perception goes, when things go wrong, and there are twelve people running the show, it's hard to pinpoint where a problem may be, and that in itself can be a problem.

Gentille: Yes, and I think big changes are still possible. Whether they should happen is a tougher question; trading one of the big guys would be stupid, and I don't think they'd do it willingly. If your definition of major change is "firing the coach, firing the GM, or trading Crosby/Malkin," the former is the most likely. I know Rutherford is on record as supporting Johnston, who had done a great job with both process and results before injuries and bad luck railroaded him. Still, a first-round meltdown might take it out of Rutherford's hands, especially depending on Mike Babcock's situation. As far as roster turnover beyond 87/71, I don't see any reason not to explore a Scuderi buyout, the Brandon Sutter question isn't going away, and there are a lot of expiring contracts on the books. Whether that'd qualify as "major" is up to you.

All great and valid points from Sean. The expiring contracts will do their work for them, the Sutter conversation is not going to go away, and we previously discussed the Scuderi buyout here ourselves. Great point that GMJR may be happy and pleased with Johnston, even if its a first round debacle, but that doesn't mean that ownership will be.

2. What concerned you the most about the Penguins during their dreadful slide? What still concerns you now?

Gretz: Paul Martin never being able to leave the ice. Losing Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot has bee a massive blow to the defense and completely changed everything about the team and the way it plays. Not only are those guys all really, really good, they make the entire system work, whether it's quickly moving the puck to the forwards or providing a second wave of attack in the offensive zone. All of that has been gone over the past month, not only because of the players they lost, but because the players that were in the lineup had to manage their minutes a little differently at times and weren't always able to join the rush or jump in the play. It changed everything. That concern still exists now. The possibility of getting Ehrhoff and Pouliot back will be a huge boost, not only in terms of skill, but because they will actually be a couple of fresh legs. All of that said, the defensemen that have been playing recently have to be completely worn out right now given the minutes they have had to play over the past couple of weeks.

I am amazed that Paul Martin is even capable of walking at this point. It's insane how the key injuries on the back end are to the puck-moving, fast skating defensemen. If Ehrhoff can come back, and perhaps Pouliot might be not far behind, maybe things will get interesting, But we'll see. Kickstarter for a chariot to carry Paul Martin around.

Metzer: They showed that they could be a good defensive club when they had all of their guns in place, but their inability to score goals was inexplicable. Sure, goal scoring is down around the league, but a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a host of other capable offensive players should have been able to roll up more than 2.22 goals per game since Feb. 15. That number dropped to 1.95 between March 4 and the end of the season and gets even worse (1.74) if you remove the 6-4 victory over Edmonton back on March 12. That has got to change if they are to have any chance in the postseason and it will not do so unless they start to focus on getting more bodies in front of the net. The lack of offense combined with the fact that they allowed 3.33 goals per game over their final six, albeit with five defenseman, is a recipe for disaster.

Lack of offense is a problem. In a playoff series against Henrik Lundqvist, it could become a very big problem. The Pens need more players to do what Patric Hornqvist has been doing relentlessly, just being a pain in the ass for defenders and goaltenders alike.

Marshall: Shooting percentage. This team always seems to run into a dry well at the most critical points of the year. They're on the up, slightly, but the big question is where the goals are going to come from. Their depth is still an issue and it's probably the biggest advantage the Rangers have aside from goaltending. I'm also a little concerned about how some of the more veteran defensive players are going to rebound from having to run with five guys for the final fortnight of the season.

Same sentiment as Gretz, can't disagree. The stretch of five defensemen needed to play so hard just to get in the playoffs, you just have to hope they aren't completely drained and running on fumes.

Yohe: Injuries are the biggest concern in terms of the Penguins trying to beat the Rangers. New York possesses the finest blue line in hockey, arguably. The Penguins are playing without Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff (maybe), Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot (maybe). That’s a lot of talent missing. There is something more, though.

I don’t believe that the Penguins think they can beat the Rangers. All season long, they have spoken of the Rangers as though they are the ’85 Oilers reincarnated. The Rangers’ ability to roar back in last season’s playoffs – rarely has a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit look so easy, so predetermined – clearly lodged itself in the Penguins’ psyche.

Moreover, the Penguins haven’t beaten a good team in a month, haven’t played well in a month and are dealing with crippling injuries. Usually there is a swagger in that locker room this time of year. Sometimes, there is too much of a swagger. Now, there isn’t much of anything. Just quiet.

I guess we can bank on hoping that the lack of swagger can lead to an upset. However, I will argue the best pairing in the NHL. Dan Girardi sucks and is the opposite of good and also has a terrible contract.

Meesh: Credit to Nick Kypreos for putting this idea in my head with one of his radio interviews – the Penguins lacked synergy.  I was able to point out several players doing their jobs almost perfectly through most of those losses but the Penguins were never more than the sum of those individual efforts. The unsatisfying part of this answer is that I have no quick fix to point out at all. With all of the injuries, some individuals underachieving, and just plain bad luck, this team just can’t seem to click on all cylinders.

What concerns me now is overall fatigue.  Mental fatigue from the overall pressure of the season, the slide late in the season, and the effects of playing well and not getting results.  Then add physical fatigue from every defenseman playing a level or two above where he should be and what that does to the forwards who have to come back deeper into the zone to help as they cover more ice.  The Penguins aren’t tired from a lack of conditioning; they look tired from a hellish season.  I’m not sure they have anything left in the tank to overcome it.

The combination of mental fatigue with physical fatigue might give those picking the Rangers in 5 a little validation.

Colligan: Scoring. I’m still not sold on the James Neal for Patric Hornqvist trade. Hornqvist has exceeded all expectations and has been one of their best players this year, but it’s so tough to find 40+ goal scorers like Neal. Sidney Crosby has been a beast on the forecheck lately yet his passes always result in weak shots into the stomach of opposing goaltenders. I have no idea how the Penguins will score enough on Lundqvist to make this a competitive series.

Are you suggesting that the Penguins need a Chris Kreider of their own to drive at the net? No, you're not. But i might be.

Miller: Goal scoring. Crosby and Malkin can't do everything. Guys like Perron and Kunitz have to contribute. While Perron may be able to turn it around, I'm worried Kunitz may just be done. And now with Letang out for the entirety of the playoffs, that just stunts the offense that much more. The possession and shot suppression numbers have been so good, they need the shooting percentage to turn around. Have to bury these chances.

Kunitz is such a bizarre situation. It's like his hands were replaced with dust pans. I don't get it. The physical aspect of his game and his skating look fine, but his hands look like they've been removed.

Gentille: My biggest concern was figuring out travel for the first round if they didn't make it. What should concern them, as has been the case for almost three full seasons, is an utter over-reliance on Crosby and Malkin to produce points. The forward group is deeper than it had been, but it's still lacking. Throw in some PDO-based issues, and stuff could easily get ugly if Crosby and Malkin aren't both at PPG-level. You just can't expect those guys to carry you every single game, and in too many ways, the Penguins do exactly that.

I would have prayed for your travel concerns. I promise. Very well said though. To the point and succinct, pointing out some of the issues, that when coupled with some PDO problems, quickly become big problems.

3. For the Penguins to have a chance against the New York Rangers in the opening round, what needs to happen?

Gretz: As I mentioned above, possibly getting Ehrhoff and/or Pouliot back would be massive, but really, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going crazy would give any team a fighting chance in a best-of-seven series. Crosby has been playing like a madman lately, and I still think all of this talk about him having a "down" year has been overblown.

Puck movers and fresh legs added to a defensive corps lacking both of those could be a massive boost.

Metzer: Marc-Andre Fleury is going to have to do much of the heavy lifting in the series. We have no reason to believe that the Penguins will be able to consistently score more than two goals per night against Henrik Lundqvist, so he’ll have to hold the third highest scoring team in the league (3.02 goals per game) to less than their season average nightly. He is capable of doing that, but his team has got to find ways to manufacture offense. Traffic in front of Lundqvist will be a big key. If the Penguins stay to the perimeter and allow the Rangers to box them out as they did in the final three games last spring, we could be looking at a very short playoff run.

Well, when you put it that way everything seems like it'll be just wonderful! Yikes, 3.02 goals per game. I honestly didn't realize they were scoring at such a high clip.

Marshall: If you can't score goals at even-strength, you need to score goals when power-play opportunities present themselves. The Penguins left, by my calculation, about 12 power-play goals on the table since the All-Star Break. When you're struggling to score, a lot of those issues can be masked by a good man-advantage. The Penguins haven't had either. So the puck needs to start going in one way or another. I'd love nothing more than to see this team crash the net hard and start getting some garbage goals around the cage to get the juices flowing. Everything else (goaltending, defense) has been great for this team, they just have to find a way to score more goals. They also need to do it against one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL, way easier said than done.

A power-play unit that can get hot and start lighting the lamp could change the mindset and tempo of a series in a heartbeat.

Yohe: While the Penguins are clear underdogs in this series, they can win it. Of course they can. It’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where favorites often go to die. Here are five things that must happen for a significant upset to occur:

  • Penalties must be called. Lots and lots of penalties. Oh, the Rangers are a good special teams squad, so this is no perfect situation for the Penguins. However, the Penguins still own the NHL’s third best penalty killing unit. And that power play, which was so brilliant in the season’s first five weeks, and such crap since, still has world class talent. Crosby, Malkin and Hornqvist on the power play remains frightening for the Rangers. Refs aren’t calling anything right now (zero penalties for either team in Buffalo on Saturday was laughable). The Penguins need the whistles to come out and to take their chances on special teams. Five-on-five play against New York? No thanks.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury needs to play better than Henrik Lundqvist. Unlikely, perhaps. Not impossible.
  • The Penguins must win one of the first two games in the series. If the Rangers go up 2-0, it’s over.
  • Paul Martin must play like a god. He was brilliant in last season’s playoffs. He must be better now.
  • Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have to put on a show. Talk about depth scoring all you want, but the Penguins can’t match the Rangers there. They just can’t. What the Penguins have over the Rangers is that they have two superstars. Rick Nash is great. Martin St. Louis still is pretty good. But they aren’t Crosby and Malkin. The stars weren’t good against the Rangers last season. Now they get another chance. It’s time. They’ve been quiet in the playoffs for far too long.

Special teams will be so key. And I absolutely agree that if the Pens go down 2-0 to start, it will be over before too long, unfortunately.

Meesh: The forwards need to crash the net, get in the way of Lundqvist’s (or Talbot’s) sightlines, win battles around the crease, and hopefully get a bounce or two to help them out. While the defense has looked exhausted, the recent string of losses has still frequently been on the forwards that are putting up 40ish shots and not putting the puck in the net.  Having scanned through my goal assessments, the lack of screens in recent weeks has been a noticeable trend (Kunitz, are you doing anything anymore?). Hornqvist will be huge in this area, but the onus can’t fall completely on him. The Penguins need to make sure that the opposing goalie doesn’t see shots coming in and they have to be ready to pounce on every rebound for this team to have a chance to win.

I think the defense, even when decimated, can handle themselves decently and Fleury is one of three guys I’m sure about right now (Crosby and Hornqvist being the others).  It’s time for the forwards to find a way to make things work without their offensive defensemen backbone.

Yep. Just like i had said earlier, they need everyone doing what Hornqvist does. It's amazing how he does it and he needs help. Garbage goals as a result of traffic and rebounds are key. You can't expect to beat Lundqvist clean and be able to win 4 games out of 7 while doing so.

Colligan: Marc-Andre Fleury needs to be flawless.  That will give them a chance, but great play from Fleury still won’t guarantee a series win.

Need that high level of great play combined with all of the other things we've mentioned.

Miller: The power play will have to show its face again. The Pens are trending up at 5-on-5, while the Rangers are trending down. If they meet in the middle, it comes down to goaltending and special teams. Lets call it a draw for goaltending and the respective PKs - the Pens power play must make the difference.

Evgeni Malkin slap shots from the point forever, please.

Gentille: So, obviously, I wouldn't pick them to beat the Rangers — it's more likely that all the stuff that needs to happen won't happen. That's not to say they don't have a shot, though, and I think the series will be closer than a lot of people anticipate, assuming they're not as snake-bitten as they were down the stretch. Ehrhoff's return would be gigantic and necessary, as well. Getting bounces and a top-four defensemen are going to help anyone, and if that happens, along with Crosby and Malkin being themselves and a continuation of their team-wide ability to suppress shots, they have a chance. There are just too many variables to actually bet on them to make it happen.

A lot of moving parts that all might have to come together simultaneously and we'll see where we stand then.

4. Who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup and why?

Gretz: Such a weird year. I could easily see at least 12 of the 16 teams in winning it all. I don't know. I really like this New York Rangers team and have for two years now. So I will say them.

They're a ridiculously deep team, and not having played them while they were on this run, and getting a look at their current roster construction, they're scary good.

Metzer: I just started to get a vibe about the Chicago Blackhawks this week, especially after hearing that they will get Patrick Kane back in the mix. They haven’t had the best season, but they made some nice acquisitions at the trade deadline and now have a bona fide number two center behind Jonathan Toews in Antoine Vermette. That was one of their key weaknesses last season. Vermette has struggled to adapt since joining the Hawks and might even be a healthy scratch when the playoffs open, but I still think he will be a difference maker before it is all said and done.

The field is wide open and this could be one of those crazy years that see Calgary, Minnesota, Ottawa or Winnipeg go on an extended run, but something about the momentum of getting a star back right in time has me leaning towards Chicago.

Patrick Kane made me change my pick in the Nashville-Chicago series from Blackhawks in 7 to Blackhawks in 6. I'm even leaning towards making it 5.

Marshall: I'm all in on the Washington Capitals. If Ovechkin stays hot, and there's no reason to think he won't, this is a team that can beat you in a multitude of ways. They're fairly deep, they've gotten adequate goaltending, and their generational superstar is scoring goals at an unprecedented rate. It's almost as if the league-wide drop in scoring has affected everyone but Ovechkin. I look across this league and I wonder why so many people are sleeping on Washington. They've shut some great teams down defensively, the Penguins included, and can score goals to boot.

I have the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Would be massively entertaining. The funniest part is when Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signed their deals, I said "they better win now, because those contracts are going to get worse quickly." and now it feels like they might have a legit shot of going on a deep run. Caps/Islanders in the first round feels like it will be a blast.

Yohe: I’ve got Chicago over Montreal in the Final. That said, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Ottawa upsets Montreal in the first round. That’s how wide open the postseason is this season. Still, I think Carey Price comes out of the East. As for Chicago, I think the West stinks this year, compared to recent seasons. And I rarely bet against the Hawks. Patrick Kane will give them a huge boost.

Carey Price is the current man to dethrone in the East. Hammond has been on a hell of a run, but Price has been hot for what feels like the entire season. Kane, Hossa, and Toews vs. Price would be fantastic.

Meesh: I am struggling with this one. There are a lot of good teams not playing well. There are a lot of not-as-good teams playing great. This year just seems like a complete crapshoot.  I’m generally torn between the Rangers and Lightning in the East and the Blackhawks and Blues in the West.  Let’s go Lightning and Blackhawks – Lightning take it in 6 on account of Stamkos and offensive depth.  Their defense will be good enough to get by and Bishop won’t have to be great, which is what allows this pick to work.

I've got Tampa Bay in the Finals, but falling just short. Tampa Bay is so young, skilled, and fast, you could find yourself in trouble quickly with pucks in the back of your net.

Colligan: Washington. I love everything they’ve done over the last 12 months. Barry Trotz, three really strong lines, three great pairs of defensemen and a hot goalie.  Winnipeg is flying way under the radar in the West and I think they’ll at least make the Conference Finals.  Figures that those two teams somehow have the worst Vegas odds of winning their respective conferences.

Echoed sentiments of Jesse on Washington, and wonderful points here regarding Winnipeg. Opening playoff odds had the Jets sitting at 25/1 to win the Cup. I feel like they might give Anaheim some fits and find themselves facing the winner of Vancouver vs. Calgary for a shot at the Western Conference Finals. I've got the Ducks winning the series, but 25/1 is enough to make you think about a side bet.

Miller: Glad this was prefaced as a "non-Penguins question." I really, really like Chicago. I think they have just enough defense to make a deep run at it, especially with Kane coming back.

The playoff mullet and Patrick Kane back are never a bad combination.

Gentille: The Kings. No, adding Patrick Kane back to the mix makes it impossible for me to pick against the Blackhawks. I also love the Lightning. So many teams have a shot that it's almost pointless to go on record with this shit.

Everyone is dumb and everyone is wrong, so whatever. We'll put you down on record for both Chicago and Tampa Bay, giving you two chances to be right.

Looks like I am the lone wolf of the group picking the St. Louis Blues to win the Cup. I feel like they will handle the Wild easily, and this will be the year they triumph over the Blackhawks. If they can do so, with no Kings in the way to disrupt their fun, I feel they have a viable shot to make a deep run all the way.

5. How many games will it take for the Penguins to be eliminated by the Rangers?

Gretz: Six games.

My personal pick as well.

Metzer: I will preface this by saying --- I hope I am wrong because there is nothing like covering a long playoff run, but without Kris Letang this is a very tough spot for the Penguins. I don’t think it will be as short a series as some are talking about, but I think the Rangers take it in six.

God, I would love to see this series with a Letang-backed Penguins team. Thanks, Shane Doan.

Marshall: Six. I think the Penguins face a 3-1 series deficit, fight back to win one more, and then are ultimately disposed of by the Rangers in a game six where they don't net a single goal in a 1-0 loss. I hope I'm wrong and I hope the floodgates open for the Penguins but I just don't see that happening quickly enough.

Isn't it funny how you can just have a pulse on how a game will go? and even better when it's a game that might not even be played.

Yohe: I’ve got the Rangers in 5. I think the Penguins will steal Game 1. But the Rangers are the superior team here in most facets. They’re built to win in the playoffs. They’re deep. They’re fast. They’re fairly young in many areas. And they have the mental edge on the Penguins after last season. In other words, they’re everything that the Penguins aren’t. Nothing would shock me here, and one good thing for the Penguins is that they’re dealing with absolutely no pressure here. So that’s good for them. But I just don’t think the Penguins believe they can beat the Rangers.

Like I said, I picked six, but I can see why people are leaning 5 based on New York's roster construction and Pittsburgh's injuries/slump.

Meesh: I feel like this question is worded with a predetermined outcome…I’m going with 5 games.  I think a few days off will give the Penguins a boost and they’ll steal one of the first two games in MSG.  That boost won’t be sustainable though and NYR’s depth will grind these...yeah, I’m done.

You shut your mouth right now with that language in this room. Stealing a game at MSG, a shared opinion for Meesh and Yohe. Oh how the expectations will change if the Penguins win Game 1 and have a 1-0 lead in a series.

Colligan: Four games.


Miller: I can totally see them going down 3-1 and maybe pulling one out to take it to six. If they can force it to seven, then who knows. I originally had Rangers in six here, but with Darnay being so generous to give me more time, I've changed my mind. #PensIn7

The Pensblog boys with the same train of thought on Game 6, but Rich going with the ultimate bold pick, taking the Penguins in 7, and defying the basis of my predetermined question.

Gentille: Six games. That jibes nicely with my copout answers in Questions 3 and 4.

You are a coward but I still like you.

6. Bonus question: If you were on death row and facing execution, what would your final meal choice be?

Gretz: Flat Iron Steak, Lobster Claws (ONLY the claws. No tail. Lobster tail is awful), a side of fresh, homemade pasta, a beer, and a chocolate cupcake with white icing for dessert.
Metzer: Tremendous. Red Lobster endless shrimp, sorry if it’s out of season Red Lobster, it’s my final meal, so make it! A few slices of Sir Pizza, a nice filet prepared medium to medium well, and a Bonzai Burger (teriyaki and pineapple = crazy delicious!). I’m clearly making this a sampling menu, so there are probably a couple of other items that would make the cut. We’ll wash it all down with a case of beer, an extra-large Dunkin Donuts regular coffee with five cream and a sweet n low, and a few diet cokes. Oh, and the case of beer has to be a sampler featuring some of the best seasonals that are released around the holidays each year --- winter warmers, Xmas Ales etc. My iPod on shuffle throughout!
It’s a bit weak that this might have been my longest answer, but you asked, so… best roundtable ever!
Marshall: The Soldier from Big Shot Bob's House of Wings in Pittsburgh. Look it up sometime, it's the greatest kind of delicious.
Yohe: Clearly I’m a sick person because I’ve considered this before. I would take the Chicken Parm from Pasta Too in Bethel Park. It’s gigantic, but I would eat it all. I’d like pasta on the side and wedding soup. For dessert, I’d like a large piece of cake from Bethel Bakery. And some vanilla custard from Rita’s. And I’ll finish it off with an Andes mint. I’ll die with stomach discomfort, but I’ll do so with a smile on my face.
Meesh: A chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake from Dave and Andy’s in Oakland.  I wore a jersey into that place once and the smell of sugar and ice cream lingered forever (don’t question me on washing my jerseys).
Colligan: Bison burger from Burgatory and a nice Chianti.
Miller: I would want a full Thanksgiving-type meal. Turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie. I would want to cap everything off with a hotdog for dessert and then leave the world (somewhat) on my own terms; proclaiming for the last time that hotdogs are in fact sandwiches.
Gentille: I think about this, almost obsessively. I'd probably go with the stuff I grew up eating: A large half-pepperoni pizza from Mineos. a cheesesteak from Uncle Sam's and a jar of Jif peanut butter sounds alright.

You are all sick and fantastic. No one hesitated at all. Bold picks. Very descript. Specific restaurants and portions even. Such respect I have for all of you.

But really, I had a blast putting this all together and appreciate all of your opinions meshing and dishing some perspective on this upcoming series. At least one of us are bound to be right about something, right?