John Steigerwald: Experience says Penguins or Capitals will win Eastern Conference
The Pittsburgh Penguins finished fifth.
Actually, and officially, they finished in third place in the Metropolitan Division behind the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders and ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets. But Carolina and Columbus won more games.
As you’ve probably noticed, the NHL has a different system for determining who finishes where, and it’s based on points. The Penguins finished third because they had more ties.
Twelve of those ties ended up as losses, but if the NHL didn’t have a point system that really doesn’t make a lot of sense and based it on wins and losses the way Major League Baseball does, here’s what the Metropolitan Division Standings would look like:
1t. Washington 48-34
1t. N.Y. Islanders 48-34
3. Columbus 47-35
4. Carolina 46-36
5. Penguins 44-38
The Penguins did what they had to do in the given system but by just about every other system of ranking teams in just about every other sport, they had the fifth best season in their division.
So what does it mean?
The playoffs start in three days and none of it matters, but it indicates how close things were in the Metropolitan Division. You would have a hard time finding anybody who thinks Carolina or Columbus has a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup than the Penguins. BetonLine.ag has the Penguins at 18-1 odds to win the Cup and the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets are at 25-1.
Tampa Bay is the favorite in the East at 11-4 and Calgary in the West at 8-1.
Taking the Penguins at 18-1 looks like a pretty good bet because of their experience. Hockey, more than any other sport, rewards teams that know how to play in the postseason and sometimes it takes a while for teams to learn how not to play.
The Penguins showed time and again in the regular season they have a switch they can turn on for big games, and every playoff game is big. It’s a big mistake to discount the Penguins because of their regular season inconsistencies.
They might or might not have the talent to win the whole thing but their performance over the past 82 games doesn’t mean they don’t.
The Tampa Bay Lighting, counting just wins and losses, had a better season than the 1927 Yankees. They finished 62-20 for a winning percentage of .756 and won the Atlantic Division by 13 games, which is amazing in an 82-game season.
The Murderer’s Row Yankees finished 110-44 for a .714 winning percentage and won the American League by 19 games.
Of course, the difference for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the boys was they only had to beat the Pirates four times to win the World Championship. The Lightning are playing in the toughest tournament in sports, and they need to win 16 more for the title. They’re probably going to have to beat either the Penguins or the Capitals four times to get to the Final. By that time, their winning percentage will be a distant memory.
The Capitals and the Penguins have won the last three Stanley Cups, and that’s fresh in their minds. It says here one of them will be going to the Final this June.
And the winner in the East will beat whoever comes out of the West.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.