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Penguins Perspectives: The Penguins Fan's Guide to the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Monday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – After 16 years, we as Penguins fans don't have to be balls of stress for anywhere between two weeks and two months.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off tonight and for the first time since George W. Bush's second term, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not one of the 16 teams taking part in the dance.

It's unfamiliar territory for us so, if you are like me, you're excited to sit down just about every night over the next two months and watch the greatest tournament in sports, cold one in hand, without worrying about how your favorite team can get to four wins, four times.

That said, if you're looking for a rooting interest…let's take a trip across the playoff field.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins: They're the Death Star. They've set the record for points and wins this season. They won the President's Trophy by a wide margin and they're the overwhelming favorite to not just come out of the east, but win the whole friggin' thing.

Given Pittsburgh's history with teams out of Boston, you're probably expecting me to say root against them and become a Florida Panthers fan in round one, but it wouldn't be Penguins Perspectives if I didn't throw you for a bit of a loop.

With the Penguins' future in flux, the Boston Bruins are the team you should be rooting for. Maybe not to win it all, but to go relatively far this spring.

They're in a very similar spot as the Penguins and this season was, for all intents and purposes, their Last Dance moment.

Patrice Bergeron is back on a one-year deal. Brad Marchand is in his 30s, so is David Krecji, and players like Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, and others are looking to get one last great ride in so they can call it a career that ends with a Stanley Cup.

You may not like these New England teams, but the Bruins are what we wanted the Penguins to be.

New Jersey Devils: If the Bruins are the old guard making one last push, the New Jersey Devils are the young pups coming of age.

Their captain was born just months before Y2K, their alternate captain was less than a year old when 9-11 happened, and just one player on the roster was born in the 1980s.

They also are no longer the 1990s/2000s New Jersey Devils that completely wrecked the sport through the neutral zone trap, elite goaltending, and big defensemen. That is genuinely surprising because their head coach, Lindy Ruff, is decidedly from the old school but he has taken the safety off and let his young guns fly.

It's a team that was tied with Edmonton for the third-best goal differential at +65, scoring just under 300 goals this season.

They're young, fast, and talented.

If that's the kind of hockey you're looking for? Take a page from David Puddy and root for "THE DEVILS!!"

Carolina Hurricanes: It seems like a lifetime ago, but the Carolina Hurricanes captain is former Penguin Jordan Staal.

This team is a tough one to put your weight behind, and not for really any negative reason, but because as Penguins fans, we love star power or up-tempo hockey.

While Carolina does play something of an up-tempo game, it's more of a game by committee. They're very committed to their offensive zone system as well as defending well as a unit.

They've also got a coach that looks like he very well could still suit up in Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour.

I also still might not be over Bill Cowher sounding the siren for the Hurricanes against the Penguins in 2009, but that's just me.

New York Islanders: Nope.

I still hate David Volek.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Imagine – the Pittsburgh Penguins' talent with the curse of someone who angered the old gods and the new.

At some point, you do have to feel bad for Leafs fans, they have one of the best goal-scorers in the league in Auston Matthews. Their core of William Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and more should be more than enough to not just win the Atlantic Division but the entire Eastern Conference and the Stanley Cup.

Despite having this core in place since basically 2019, they still haven't been out of the first round since 2004 and haven't lifted the Stanley Cup since 1967.

It's been for a cavalcade of reasons, injuries, goalies getting hot, shooters going cold, and just outright choking.

If you want to root for a long-tortured fanbase of a team that's well-built? Go Leafs, go.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I'm tired of them, you're tired of them, everyone outside of Florida is sick of them.

They've been to the last three Stanley Cup Finals and they're the only team other than the Penguins to win back-to-back championships in the salary cap era.

As Penguins fans, it would be hypocritical of us to root against a team with plenty of talent, a likable core, and a track record of success.

Also, if you like rooting for history, should Tampa make it to the Stanley Cup Final for the fourth straight year, they would join the 1970s Montreal Canadiens as a franchise to reach four consecutive finals.

Florida Panthers: I think enough time has passed we can forgive them for 1996. They were an expansion team in an era when the league didn't allow expansion teams to be stacked with talent so they did the best with what they had.

I do understand not liking Florida because they have the second wild card spot and you wish the Penguins had it.

However, it's a fun narrative matchup in round one with Boston. Last year, Florida took the President's Trophy home in a runaway. This year, Boston did it.

The Panthers met their fate in round two with a sweep from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This year, there's considerably less pressure and a chance to upset the far and away best team in the NHL.

You could always root for the underdog and they sure are, at least in round one.

New York Rangers: Nope.

Kevin Stevens' "We'll win four straight" guarantee > Mark Messier's "We'll win tomorrow night" guarantee.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche: The Penguins were the first.

The Lightning were the second.

Can the Avalanche become the third franchise in the salary cap era of the NHL to win back-to-back cups? Well, outside of Landeskog being done for the entire playoff, the Avalanche are bringing most of the same crew that won last year's Stanley Cup to this year's playoff.

As Penguins fans know, it's hard to bring everyone back and most of the championship crew is back.

Similar to the Penguins of back-to-backs, they're fast, talented, and play an exciting brand of hockey.

Also, if you want a really motivated and angry Sidney Crosby? Tell him his best friend Nathan MacKinnon is about to catch him in championships.

Vegas Golden Knights

What are sports mainly about?

That's right, winning – everything else be damned. The Vegas Golden Knights have shown since their inception that their sole focus is the now. They aren't worried about building a robust prospect pool, stocking draft picks, or anything like that.

Can you help them win the Stanley Cup in the next 2-3 years? Great, you're in.

It's a franchise that makes big trades, signs marquee free agents, and goes for broke each and every year.

While it's certain to come back to haunt them, not to mention how quickly they move on from big signings, it hasn't yet.

They also have the NHL's Iron Man: Phil Kessel, he of two Penguins' Stanley Cups.

Winnipeg Jets

While they may not be as high-flying (no pun intended) as Vegas, they've found something down the stretch.

Fighting for their playoff lives in the western conference, the Jets went 5-2 and doubled up their opponents in goals.

They also have arguably the best goalie in the game in Connor Hellebuyck. That's how they'll win, by shutting down a dynamic Vegas attack with stingy defense and a great goalie.

Hey, if that's your thing, go Jets, go, I guess.

Los Angeles Kings

Tinseltown is back on hockey's biggest stage.

Here's the other thing – if you like teams that aren't being talked about but pose a real threat? The Kings are your squad.

Much like the Bruins are the beasts of the east, the Kings' first-round opponent is Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, the likely favorites to come out of the western conference. Should LA's top two centers Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault shut down McDavid and the Edmonton offense, the west is theirs for the taking.

And, like our Penguins, their franchise legends in Kopitar and Drew Doughty are back looking for one more championship before their days come to an end.

Maybe if you want a team to surround its biggest players with an infusion of young talent, the Kings are your squad.

Seattle Kraken

Jared McCann scored 40 goals, and even with Hextall fired, wouldn't it be something to see that move continue to look worse?

What's that, you don't want more salt in the wound?

What if I told you former Penguins' draft pick Daniel Spring scored 20-plus goals this season?

Brandon Tanev also scored 35 points for Seattle.

Hey, if you want former Penguins, two of which should probably still be here, to be successful, the second-year franchise might be appointment viewing for you in round one.

Edmonton Oilers

Listen, it's a tough pill to swallow, but we have to swallow it.

Sidney Crosby is no longer the best player on earth, he's in the top five, but the top spot now firmly belongs to Connor McDavid.

This season he racked up an unreal 153 points, nearly 30 more than the second-place finisher, his teammate Leon Draisaitl.

He also scored 64 goals on top of it all.

Edmonton has gone through it for the past 20 or so years. Consistent misery,  failed first-overall picks, and became a punchline. So much so the rules of the NHL Draft Lottery were changed because their former management so badly bungled the first-overall pick, they didn't want them getting it again.

Now? They've got the unquestionable best player on Earth, they score at an unbelievable rate, and McDavid is a one-man thrill ride.

If you like all of that, they're your team.

If you're team chaos, root for them to lose in spectacular fashion and so begins the "When will McDavid demand a trade" talk.

Dallas Stars

If the Dallas Stars were a car, they'd be a Honda Civic.

Reliable, not overly exciting, but still have a pretty good engine under the hood.

It's a team that is just been chugging along all season long. Their defense is extremely solid, allowing the third-least goals against per game and still having players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Robertson putting up great offensive numbers.

In net, they have young goalie Jake Oettinger.

They won't wow you, but they know how to win.

Want to look smart around the water cooler during the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Here's your chance to say, "Not a lot of people talked about Dallas, but I knew."

You're welcome.

Minnesota Wild

You love Marc-Andre Fleury, right? Of course you do.

If you want him to get a fourth Stanley Cup, along with Penguins' legend Bill Guerin, root for the State of Hockey, simple as that!

So there you have it, all the teams competing for Lord Stanley's Cup this year.

You can pick one of those teams, or join me in cracking an Iron City Beer IC'D Tea and just enjoying the best time of the hockey season.


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