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5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Pittsburgh Penguins

by Photo of Gil Santos

Jim Rixner discusses Kris Letang, the Penguins’ playoff chances, and more.

5 Stanley Cup Playoff Questions for the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday and CHARGED.fm wants to prepare you for playoff hockey! To get you ready, we contacted bloggers for the 16 playoff teams and asked them five questions to give us more insight about the teams they cover. Here is Jim Rixner of PensBurgh talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins and their playoff chances.

Despite the impressive 51-24-7 record, it hasn't been easy for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season. Throughout the year, it seemed that every week a Penguin was going down to a long-term injury. Their blue line was especially affected with Kris Letang suffering a stroke and Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi going in and out of the lineup. The Penguins' forwards weren't spared from the injury bug either. Evgeni Malkin missed the final 11 games of the season with a foot injury. James Neal has battled with concussion issues. Pascal Dupuis is out for the season with a torn ACL. Fortunately, the Penguins were able to persevere through the injuries and still won the Metropolitan Division with relative ease. 

Sidney Crosby deservedly should receive a lot of the credit for the Pegnuins' success this season as he has played exceptional this season. Crosby was the top point getter and was the only player to eclipse the 100-point mark with 104. He also received a lot of help from his linemate Chris Kunitz, who scored a career-high 35 goals. Before things get started at Consol Energy Center, I talked to Jim Rixner of PensBurgh about the Penguins' playoff prospects and here is what he had to say:

1) The Pittsburgh Penguins were swept out of last postseason by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. How has this year’s team improved from last year and what your main concerns?

I don't think the Penguins are better this year than last year, especially on paper. They've lost a lot of depth players, but maybe Marc-Andre Fleury will bounce back, and if he can that will be the biggest difference from this playoffs to last. Obviously the main concern is that he won't bounce back and then who knows what the team will do as far as staying with him in net or going to Jeff Zatkoff.

2) Defenseman Kris Letang returned to action after missing 10 weeks due to a stroke. How big is it for the Penguins to have him back and how much of an impact do you think he can make in the playoffs?

It's huge, he's their number 1 defenseman and was a Norris trophy finalist last year. Hopefully, he'll have a normal impact, which seems hard to believe considering the circumstances, but seems to be possible. Letang scored 1 goal and 3 assists in his 3 game comeback, and the final game of the season he played 26:53 vs the Senators, more than any other player on either team. He's looked great and hopefully can keep it up. He helps the Penguins at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill and also gives defensemen further down the lineup like Olli Maatta and Matt Niskanen more favorable matchups and easier minutes to play.

3) What do you think is the biggest misconception about this year’s Penguins?

I think all the narratives are more or less true- the Penguins have 2 very, very good lines and 2 very poor lines, have been injured and have an unknown quality in net.

4) The Penguins will face off against the young Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. How do you think this match-up will play out?

Hopefully Pittsburgh will use their experience edge and advantages by being a deeper team to overwhelm Columbus and run away with the series. Pittsburgh was 37-4-3 when scoring first this season and have the best power play in the league. They'll hope to get out front, play from a position of power and never look back. Of course, that's easier said than done.

5) What is your overall prediction for the Penguins this postseason?

Realistically, they'll have a tough time with whoever wins the Philly/NY Rangers series and if they get by that and have a date with Boston that could be the end of the road. Anything could happen depending on injuries, luck and goaltending play, but I'd probably bet this isn't a Stanley Cup finals team barring a big time performance from their star players.

Jim Rixner is the managing editor of SB Nation blog PensBurgh. You can follow him on Twitter @Hooks_Orpik

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