Received an interesting email from reader Jordan:
While I was absolutely thrilled with the Pens win today, one thing somewhat concerning me is that this series is starting to look like the 1996 Conference Finals against the Florida Panthers. We had a dynamic scoring offense led by the Lemieux-Jagr duo, much like the Crosby-Malkin tandem.
We went into that series heavily favored against a scrappy, defense-minded Panthers team much like Ottawa; however, they won both Game 1 in Pittsburgh and Game 3 in Miami, with the Pens tying the series up each time. Then the Pens absolutely dominated Game 5 in Pittsburgh against the Panthers and put them on the brink of elimination, as we have just now done to Ottawa.
However, the Panthers stayed alive with a close Game 6 win in Miami, and then came back to Pittsburgh in Game 7 with confidence and beat us. It was definitely one of the greatest Pens teams ever to not win a Cup. Should we be concerned this series is shaping up to play out the same way, or do you see something fundamentally different between this team and the 1996 team?
There certainly are some parallels so far between the '96 ECF and this year through the five games and the types of teams. But I see some differences too.
Starting behind the bench, Mike Sullivan is 6-0 in playoffs series for the Penguins. Entering the '96 playoffs Eddie Johnston was 0-3 in Pittsburgh as a head coach in playoff series. Nothing against Johnston, a great guy who did so much for the Pens over the years but I'd say this entire coaching staff is head and shoulders above what they had then.
I would also hope Matt Murray doesn't give up a slapper from the blue line if this one goes to Game 7, so that's another big difference, edge in goalie play goes to this year's team.
If you think the 2017 Penguins defense is a rag-tag unit, just look at the names who played on the Pittsburgh blueline in 1996: Sergei Zubov, J.J. Daigneault, Chris Tamer, Francois Leroux, Chris Joseph, Dmitri Mironov, Neil Wilkinson. Besides Zubov, that's a pretty thin group. Even if the Pens had beaten the Panthers, it's tough to imagine that group would have fared well against the Sakic/Forsberg stacked group of Avalanche players.
Another factor is just championship experience. These things are hard to quantify, but this year's team just looks to have that special "it" factor. Whether it's drive, desire, focus, whatever you want to call it, they seem locked in. Most the players on the '17 Pens are Stanley Cup champions pushing to try and repeat. Maybe it's just hindsight, but the '96 team, to me at least, was pretty much a one-line team without too much depth. And Ron Francis had broken his foot and was out (though Petr Nedved certainly filled in well).
Let's hope the '17 Pens can avoid the fate of the '96 team, but while there are some similarities in the ECF and the opponent, there are differences too.