Penguins win 2009 Stanley Cup

PHT picks the Stanley Cup winner — 10 reasons it’ll be the Pittsburgh Penguins

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Picking a Stanley Cup winner isn’t easy. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs this season, there might be 10 or 11 with a realistic shot to win a championship. And if the 2005-06 Oilers can make it to Game 7 of the finals, who are we to count out any?

But if we can only pick one team, we’re picking the Pittsburgh Penguins, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Sidney Crosby – He’s the best player in hockey, and he’s arguably better today than he’s ever been. (Which makes sense given he’s only 24.) Consider: over the last two seasons, Crosby’s played 63 games and scored 103 points. Over 82 games, that’s 134 points. Obviously his recent concussion issues make you wonder if he can stay healthy the entire playoffs, but he’s looking pretty healthy now.

2. Evgeni Malkin – This guy’s winning the Hart Trophy. Fifty goals, 109 points, it’s a slam dunk. If Crosby’s the best center in the NHL, Malkin is the second best.

3. The best third-line center in the league – And that would be Jordan Staal. A Selke finalist last year, a lot of teams would kill to have Staal as their number one center. But the Pens are so stacked down the middle that he can focus on shutting down the other teams’ top lines.

4. A Norris-caliber defenseman – Of NHL d-men that played 50-plus games, only Erik Karlsson scored more points per game (.96) than Kris Letang (.82). While he’s not Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber when it comes to shutdown abilities, Letang has turned into one of the elite blue-liners in the league, and he’s more than made up for the loss of Sergei Gonchar, who was so key for the Pens during their trips to the finals in 2008 and 2009.

5. Above average goaltending – Which might be understating it. Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers (.913 SV%, 2.36 GAA) aren’t up there with the best in the NHL, but he must be okay if he’s made it to the finals twice. With the second-most wins in the NHL (42), and playing goal on a team that likes to trade chances, many think Fleury should be in the Vezina discussion.

6. Special teams – The power play ranks fifth (19.7%) and the penalty kill third (87.8%). Add 19.7 and 87.8 together and you get 107.5. No team has a higher combined rate than Pittsburgh.

7. Scoring depth – When the Pens went to the finals in 2008 and 2009, they relied on Crosby and Malkin for so much of their offense. This year they’ve got a 40-goal scorer in James Neal, plus forwards like Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke enjoying career seasons.

8. Toughness – For all the talent they boast, you can’t push the Penguins around. Neal, Cooke, Arron Asham, Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams, Deryk Engelland, and Joe Vitale provide the requisite playoff grit. Not to mention Malkin, Crosby and Staal are no shrinking violets.

9. Coaching – Last year Dan Bylsma won the Jack Adams for getting the Pens into the playoffs despite Crosby, Malkin and Staal missing half the season. Bylsma was also behind the bench for the 2009 Cup victory.

10. Experience – With two trips to the finals since 2008, the Penguins know what it takes to win and they know what it’s like to play in big games. Among the current Pens that won rings in 2009: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Kunitz, Cooke, Adams, Orpik, Dupuis, and Tyler Kennedy.

PHT Stanley Cup Playoffs Links

Eastern Conference previews

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers

Western Conference previews

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

More:

Click here for the entire 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs TV schedule (all of which will be televised by NBC Universal).

– To weigh in on who you think will win the Cup, vote in our poll.

– For PHT staff playoff picks (in five words!), click here.

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for tonight

Stanley Cup
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There’s nothing better than a Game 7, especially when a spot in the Stanley Cup Final is up for grabs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins will battle in a do-or-die game for the right to play the San Jose Sharks with Lord Stanley on the line. You can watch the game via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh (8:00 p.m. ET)

The television broadcast of Game 7 will be on NBCSN. To stream the game using the Live Extra app, click here.

Here’s some reading material to get you ready for this one:

Penguins, Lightning prepare for ‘roller coaster’ Game 7

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

Video: Brouwer was big for Blues

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Troy Brouwer made quite an impression in his first year with the St. Louis Blues. After being acquired from the Capitals for T.J. Oshie, the 30-year-old scored 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 season. His eight goals and 13 points during the playoffs weren’t too shabby either.

Brouwer took on more of a signficant role in the postseason. His points-per-game increased, his ice time increased and he was more productive on the man-advantage (3 goals in 20 games). While the Blues were fighting for their playoff lives in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference Final, Brouwer contributed three goals.

Now, the Blues will have to find a way to keep him around. His playoff success likely means that he’ll be expecting a substantial raise between now and the end of the league year on July 1st. Brouwer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on that day.

Brouwer came with a cap hit of $3.66 million and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number climb higher, especially if he hits the open market.

The Blues also need to work out deals with other pending free agents like captain David Backes and Jaden Schwartz (RFA). There isn’t a ton of money left under the cap in St. Louis, which means that GM Doug Armstrong will have to get creative this summer.

One of the things Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock liked about Brouwer was the way he seemed to fit in right away.

“He was on the team for a month,” Hitchcock explained earlier this week, per the Vancouver Sun. “I think my meetings were a little bit too long.  He told me it would be best if I kept them a little briefer.  So I knew he had a bite on the team right away. It didn’t take him long to get comfortable with us, which is great.”  

How much will comfort count for in the off-season negotiations between club and player? We’ll find out soon enough.

PHT Morning Skate: Jim Craig doesn’t regret selling ‘Miracle on Ice’ memorabilia

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–These parents named their baby girl after Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. (ABC News)

–The  hockey card that helped inspire a Tragically Hip song. (Puck Junk)

–The fan who promised to get a tattoo of Gary Bettman if LA and Chicago were eliminated in the first round kept his word. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Sharks and Blues. (Top)

–Jim Craig doesn’t regret auctioning off most of his “Miracle on Ice” memorabilia. (Yahoo)

–A Q & A with former Quebec Nordiques forward Peter Stastny. (ESPN)

–Former Flyers coach Craig Berube breaks down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (NHL)

Hitch: ‘I see the devastation in our locker room’

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Despite a late comeback attempt, the 2015-16 season came to an end for the St. Louis Blues, as they lost the Western Conference Final in six games to the San Jose Sharks.

And with Wednesday’s loss, the off-season will settle upon the Blues. It will be an intriguing one in St. Louis, starting with their head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s on a one-year deal and he has already outlined that he’s fine with taking short-term contracts. But is an appearance in the conference final enough to solidify his place behind the St. Louis bench for next year?

The Blues have, according to General Fanager, five pending unrestricted free agent forwards, including Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Steve Ott, and most notably Troy Brouwer and David Backes.

Backes, 32, is the team’s captain and coming off a 21-goal, 45-point regular season, which is a decline from the numbers — 26 goals and 58 points — he posted the year before. Brouwer, 30, enjoyed the best post-season of his career, with eight goals and 13 points in 20 games, and he could potentially cash in on that this summer.

However, while there are questions ahead for the Blues, the emotional toll this loss took was clear.

“I see the devastation in our locker room right now. Guys aren’t even able to speak. I’m more worried about our guys right now, to be honest with you. We got some guys that are pretty shook up right now,” said Hitchcock to reporters.

“I’m not going to talk to them for a day or two. They need their space with each other. They’ve bonded together here better than any team I’ve coached in the last 10 years. They need their time together. They don’t need me interrupting them right now. We’ll talk at an appropriate time. But right now they need to be with each other.”