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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Reasons Penguins can — and can't — 3-peat

| Saturday, April 7, 2018, 5:09 p.m.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin beats Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Anderson for his 900th point in the first period Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin beats Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Anderson for his 900th point in the first period Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins aren't merely trying to win the Stanley Cup for the third season in a row. This spring's pursuit is about history and legacy. It's about establishing a dynasty, especially difficult to do when a league employs a salary cap. It can be a long two months, or it could be a short two weeks.

There are plenty of reasons why the Penguins can win a third straight Stanley Cup. There are also plenty of reasons why they can't.

Can: The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, unmatched as a 1-2 punch by any NHL team.

Can't: Lack of depth. Injuries occur frequently in the lengthy grind of the playoffs, and the Penguins are particularly susceptible in goal and on defense. When attrition struck last year, they turned to Marc-Andre Fleury and Ron Hainsey. This year, it would be Casey DeSmith and Andrey Pedan.

Can: No foe would be overwhelmingly favored in a seven-game series against the Penguins and perhaps not favored at all. A few inflated point totals duly noted, the NHL doesn't have any truly great teams.

Can't: Speed has been an edge for the Penguins, but several teams have caught them in that regard. New Jersey has passed them. It's a copycat league.

Can: No team has the equivalent big-game experience that 49 Stanley Cup playoff games over the previous two springs provide.

Can't: No team has the equivalent fatigue those 49 games provide, either.

Can: The Penguins' power play is a deadly weapon: first in the NHL with a success rate of 26.2 percent.

Can't: The Penguins' penalty kill is slow suicide: 17th in the NHL with a “success” rate of 80 percent. (Disclaimer: If it's a typical postseason, laissez-faire officiating will dilute the importance of special teams.)

Can: Having won the last two Stanley Cups, the Penguins won't feel any pressure.

Can't: The Penguins will wilt under the pressure of attempting to make history by winning a third straight Stanley Cup. That hasn't been done since the New York Islanders in 1982.

The biggest edge is clearly Crosby and Malkin: Six rings and three playoff MVPs between them. That advantage can be taken for granted because the Penguins have enjoyed it so long, but it shouldn't be. Not for a second.

But the Penguins have a host of experienced and accomplished playoff performers beyond Crosby and Malkin. Those tend to accumulate when your team wins consecutive Stanley Cups.

Phil Kessel has 66 points in 71 career playoff games. He's the Penguins' tertiary threat offensively. Derick Brassard has 55 points in 78 career playoff games. Health permitting, he's on the Penguins' third line. Jake Guentzel had a bit of a sophomore slide, but he netted 13 goals last postseason.

The Penguins lack depth in spots. But they are loaded up front and the NHL's best team at center, hockey's most important position besides goalie.

Complain about Matt Murray's roller-coaster season if you like. But at 23, Murray has two Stanley Cup rings, 22 playoff victories, a career postseason goals-against average of 1.95 and he allowed zero goals in the last two games of last year's Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

Compare all that to, say, Sergei Bobrovsky's regular-season stats. You'd rather have Murray's resume.

You don't know if you can do it until you've done it. The Penguins have done what can't be taught and done it each of the last two years.

In 2016, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup because they were the best team. They outperformed everybody.

In 2017, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup because they were the last team standing. They outlasted everyone.

Is there yet a different way to win in 2018? If there is, don't rule out the Penguins finding it.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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