Penguins in the playoffs

NHL Playoffs: Penguins and Capitals play for the Pseudo Stanley Cup

But this time, Dave Lozo writes, the Caps will probably win.

"Who you got?" "Us." "Yeah, me too."

"Who you got?" "Us." "Yeah, me too."

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.


Just like in 2016 when the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins met in the second round, this year’s matchup feels a lot like the battle between the two best teams remaining in the postseason. The only difference is the Tampa Bay Lightning were lurking in the conference finals last year, while no one of their caliber will be there this year, and the West may have a blessed Cinderella No. 8 seed in the Nashville Predators waiting in the Final.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence or maybe it’s just the imbalance in talent between the conferences now or maybe it’s just the NHL’s stupid playoff format that makes the best teams face each other in earlier rounds, but it feels like a Pseudo Stanley Cup Final will start Thursday night in Washington.

But this time, the Penguins aren’t the favorites.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins

Who will be the happy handshaker after this series?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s Penguins entered the playoffs playing dominant, even-strength hockey but, more importantly, they were healthier. They had Kris Letang and Matt Murray. While their absences were barely noticed against the overmatched and overrated Columbus Blue Jackets, this could be the round where not having a No. 1 defenseman and No. 1 goaltender takes its toll.

And, look, I get it — you people in Pittsburgh love Marc-Andre Fleury. You want him to win a Stanley Cup again. You saw him go 4-1 with a .933 save percentage in the first round. You want to believe that his will be his redemption postseason.

If he gets past this round, it very well could be. Maybe Mike Sullivan sticks with Fleury even if Murray is healthy. But what’s the one joke we all love about the Capitals? It’s that they can’t get out of the second round. They get to the border and can see the third round but they keep bouncing off the invisible force field and falling down. It’s very funny (unless you’re a Caps fan).

What has Fleury done since winning the Cup in 2009?

  • Second-round exit
  • First-round exit
  • First-round exit
  • First-round exit
  • Second-round exit
  • First-round exit
  • Stanley Cup! (as a backup who lost his one start)
Marc-Andre Fleury

Marc-Andre Fleury has been good, but will he stay good?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

And now here he is in the second round with that very sweet .933. Should you take that as a sign that he’s turning the corner? That he’s mustering one last Cup run before being traded or having his contract bought out after his season? Or is it a harbinger of doom, considering his .907 career postseason save percentage and mostly catastrophic showings since 2009?

So this series will come down to which second-round chokers will choke the hardest, if at all — Fleury or the Capitals?

This time, the Capitals…

(Dave, don’t do it)

…seem to be…

(You’re not falling for this, are you?)

…a completely different team.

(You’re such an idiot.)

"He did it. He told himself not to do it, but Dave totally did it."

"He did it. He told himself not to do it, but Dave totally did it."

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be Fleury scoring on himself that does in the Penguins; it may be that Letang isn’t there to give the Penguins the depth they require on defense to combat the depth the Capitals have on offense.

Forget about the Capitals’ stars — the third line with Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson combined for three goals and four assists in six games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. When Wilson isn’t spending every shift on an attempted murder spree, it’s a useful line that can wreak havoc against the opponent’s depth defenders.

Not having Letang will create matchup problems everywhere, especially against the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie line, but his absence leads to a trickle-down effect that can create the same issues against the lower lines too.

But if the Penguins can get past the Capitals, would you bet against them in the conference finals against the Senators or Rangers? What about in the Real Cup Final against anyone left in the West?

This series was destined to be a problem from the moment it was announced Letang was out for the season and only became a bigger problem when Murray was hobbled before Game 1 against the Blue Jackets. But if the Capitals gag again, the Penguins are probably going to raise the Real Cup for a second year in a row.

Want some more? Explore other Penguins in the playoffs stories.

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