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Quarterfinal Round: Vote on the best Pittsburgh Penguins team ever!

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Our March Madness-style tournament moves on to the next round with the 8 best teams in Pens’ franchise history

Stanley Cup Celebration Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Let’s move along on our voting of the best team in franchise history since the matchups we had earlier this week are all like 95%-5% so we can go ahead and consider that closed. The closest vote we had was in Part 1 where there was an upset with the 1995-96 Conference Finals team of the Lemieux-Francis-Jagr Score Lords days knocking off the 2007-08 Stanley Cup Finals team 55%-45%.

Here are the matchups for the quarterfinals with the best eight teams in Pens’ franchise history. This is where a lot of the votes will really start to get difficult and you’re going to be asked to choose between some very good teams...Without further ado, here we go!

#1 1991-92 Cup winners vs #9 1995-96 team

Our mighty top seed back-to-back Stanley Cup winner had no problem at all in the first round, winning an astounding 100%-0% (1,226 votes to just 4 either accidents or troll votes, I would assume) in their opening matchup.

Back in 2017, NHL.com named this team the second best team EVER in league history:

In successfully defending their Cup title, the Penguins perfected the art of peaking at the optimal time, showcasing a mountain of mental and physical resolve in the process. Indeed, in November 1991, weeks into the season, the Penguins were mourning the death of their beloved coach, Bob Johnson, who had guided them to their first Cup title six months earlier.

”We learned a lot from Bob — we learned how to win,” Lemieux said. “We’re a very tough team to coach, a team that was known for offense, but he taught us how to play defense. He was the main reason we won the Stanley Cup.

Scotty Bowman, who was Penguins director of player personnel, was named coach, and though he took over a team with Lemieux, widely regarded as the premier player in the NHL, the electrifying Jagr and such standouts as Stevens, defenseman Paul Coffey and forwards Ron Francis and Joe Mullen, nothing came easily. Lemieux led the League with 131 points (44 goals, 87 assists) but was plagued throughout the season by back pain.

The strength of the ‘92 team is undeniable. But can they be upset this round? That will be the challenge for arguably the best performance from a single line the NHL has ever seen.

While Jaromir Jagr in 1992 was emerging as a legit top-flight forward, by 1996 he had hit his absolute peak with a career-high 62 goals, a career-high 87 assists which led naturally to a career-high 149 points. And he still finished fourth in the Hart Trophy voting, behind winner Mario Lemieux’s league-high 161 points that season.

But will it be enough to stand in the way of the mighty Cup champs? Well, let’s see

Poll

Pens best team ever:

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    #1 1991-92 Stanley Cup winners
    (848 votes)
  • 6%
    #9 1995-96 Eastern Conference finalists
    (55 votes)
903 votes total Vote Now

#4 2008-09 Cup winners vs #5 2013 team

Our second matchup features another Stanley Cup winner, the first of the Sidney Crosby / Evgeni Malkin era against a powerful lockout version of the 2013 team, which is some ways are opposites of each other. The ‘09 team gelled at the right time and grew stronger as the season went along, once Dan Bylsma was installed as coach. The ‘13 team, still under the guidance of Bylsma, arguably is stronger on paper from top to bottom but did not get the same ending after a rough week against Boston led to a still shocking sweep.

Going based off the hockey-reference “Simple Rating System”, defined as “a team rating that takes into account average goal differential and strength of schedule. The rating is denominated in goals above/below average, where zero is average” the 2013 team was the second best team the Pens ever had with a 0.93 rating. The 2009 Pens rank just 17th best among all Pittsburgh teams due to a choppy regular season.

That sort of speaks to the bigger part of the equation for team strength. The 2013 team won 36 out of 48 games in the regular season, that .750% points percentage being the best in team history, albeit in a shortened season. But that 2013 team didn’t win 16 playoff games and Crosby wasn’t really the same after breaking his jaw. 2009 also featured a better version of Malkin, who bulled and bullied his way to the Conn Smythe trophy.

On talent alone, the 2013 supporting cast (Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis) probably bests the 2009 surrounding players (Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Max Talbot, Petr Sykora, Ruslan Fedotenko). But in performance late in the year, the ‘09 group found that extra gear.

It makes for a very interesting #4 v #5 matchup, and one to vote on now:

Poll

Pens best team ever:

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    #4 2008-09 Stanley Cup winners
    (764 votes)
  • 16%
    #5 2013 Eastern Conference finalists
    (146 votes)
910 votes total Vote Now

#3 2015-16 Cup winners vs #6 2016-17 Cup winners

And now, an epic clash of the two latter championship teams of the Crosby/Malkin days.

The 2015-16 team was a special beast, especially from December/January on after Mike Sullivan’s arrival and the team was bolstered by adding Carl Hagelin and dropping Rob Scuderi. They also had Kris Letang who played arguably the best hockey of his career in an eye-popping 28:53 average TOI in 23 playoff games that spring. Veterans like Kunitz and Matt Cullen were more effective versions of themselves in 2016 than they were a year later in 2017.

But while 2016-17 may have some obvious disadvantages (namely the lack of Letang in the lineup down the stretch and all playoffs) they have some factors and edges over the 2015-16 team that should be taken into account as well. The latter year had one more year under Sullivan to perfect their game. They also had Jake Guentzel (23G and 55P in 60 games) that the earlier year didn’t. Players like Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Bryan Rust were also more experienced and better in 2017 than they were in 2016, many of them in larger roles.

Goaltending, while very good in both years, was also better in 2017 (.929 save% by Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs) compared to 2016’s run (.920 save% from Murray, Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff). The contributions of Fleury in 2017 in his Pens’ swan song was a difference maker, and a necessary one too considering Murray’s injuries.

Poll

Pens best team ever:

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    #4 2015-16 Cup winner
    (620 votes)
  • 33%
    #5 2016-17 Cup winner
    (309 votes)
929 votes total Vote Now

#2 1992-93 Presidents Trophy team vs #7 1990-91 Stanley Cup winners

Our final quarterfinal matchup features two Lemieux era teams, and another battle of “ultimate prize vs. promise unfulfilled”.

The ‘92-93 Pens still hold an NHL record 17 game winning streak (which they did without the benefit of a shootout). Their strength was really incredible, winning the franchise’s only Presidents trophy to date as the NHL’s top regular season team. But be it factors of over-confidence, bad luck, injuries, goaltending, they were upset in the second round of the playoffs.

The 1990-91 Pens achieved what many felt could never happen for the Pens - a champion. They had Badger Bob Johnson pumping up and teaching them how to win, and this team will also have the benefit of Paul Coffey who was traded in-season.

So which way will this go, the scrappy 1990-91 team that just found ways to win? Or the 92-93 team that did a lot of winning, except for one fateful playoff round?

Poll

Pens best team ever:

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    #2: 1992-93 Presidents trophy team
    (507 votes)
  • 44%
    #7: 1990-91 Stanley Cup champions
    (400 votes)
907 votes total Vote Now

Exciting matchups and some tough choices here, it will be interesting to see how all of these votes play out.