NHL playoff power rankings: Penguins aim for three
No current Pittsburgh Penguins player was alive the last time an NHL team won three Stanley Cup championships in a row.
Coach Mike Sullivan, 50, was a Massachusetts teenager. General manager Jim Rutherford, 69, was a goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings in 1981-82 while the New York Islanders were on their way to winning their third consecutive title.
"It can be done," Rutherford said. "But you can't think ahead."
The Penguins' quest starts Wednesday when they play Philadelphia in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal in Pittsburgh. The Penguins haven't shown the same consistency that they had last spring, but they believe their slightly altered team can be just as effective as they were a year ago.
Here is USA Today's power rankings heading into the first round of the playoffs:
1. Nashville: Boast the NHL's top goalie, most impressive defensive corps, an improved offense, world-class barbecue, an All-Star lineup of anthem singers, the NHL's most experienced GM and a coach who has been to the Stanley Cup Final with three different teams. The Predators have it all going on.
2. Tampa Bay: Coach Jon Cooper's team has the No. 1 offense (3.54 goals a game) and the No. 3 power play (23.9 percent). Their defensive potential is much better than their numbers indicate. They have stars (Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov) up front, on defense (Victor Hedman) and in net (Andrei Vasilevskiy). Area of concern? Only 76.1 percent on the penalty kill, ranked 28th.
3. Winnipeg: The Jets may be the most dangerous offensive team in the Western Conference. Patrik Laine. Nikolaj Ehlers. Mark Scheifele. Kyle Connor. A collection of forwards with big-game potential. They are 11-1-0 in their past 12 games.
4. Washington: Nobody is talking about a Capitals team that has played better than had been expected this season. Maybe coming in under the radar is what they need.
5. Boston: Defenseman Zdeno Chara, 41, can impact a playoff series more than any other non-goaltender. He's big, strong, aggravating and highly effective as a one-on-one defender. The Bruins are a legitimate contender.
The #NHLBruins and @MapleLeafs will be meeting in the #StanleyCup Playoffs for the 15th time in history. Everything you need to know about the first-round series – including schedule info, lineups, and matchup history – is right here: https://t.co/rgDyrCzWVJ— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 9, 2018
6. Vegas: Love this expansion team's moxie and relentless pursuit of the puck. The Golden Knights want everyone to believe they are the underdog this postseason, but the Golden Knights don't even believe that.
7. Toronto: This is a team deep at forward, average on defense and adequate in net with Frederik Andersen.
8. Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are at center. With a 10-1-1 record in their last 12 games, the Ducks are the opponent that no one wants to face in the first round.
9. Pittsburgh: Don't doubt the Penguins. You didn't believe they would win two Stanley Cup champions in a row, either. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Phil Kessel. Kris Letang. Enough said.
10. Los Angeles: This team still has plenty of players, including Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, who understand what it takes to win a Stanley Cup.
11. Columbus: Coach John Tortorella's team is 13-2-2 in their past 15 games and plays a plucky style that could be effective in the postseason. Defenseman Seth Jones has been a force down the stretch. Their problem is they don't have centers that measure up favorably against the league's best.
12. San Jose: Ranked 13th in goals for and ninth in goals against. The Sharks spiced up their offense by adding Evander Kane at the trade deadline. Martin Jones measures up well in net. It would be a mistake to underestimate the Sharks.
13. Minnesota: Ryan Suter's broken fibula is a major blow for a team that has advanced to the second round twice in the past 15 years. Feel free to root for Bruce Boudreau to have some playoff success. A likable guy with bad playoff luck.
14. Philadelphia: Claude Giroux deserves to be considered in the Hart Trophy balloting for the job he did in leading the Flyers into the playoffs. Keep an eye on Philadelphia defenseman Ivan Provorov. He is capable of being a difference maker in any series.
15. New Jersey: Taylor Hall's exceptional season has been the primary reason why the Devils are in the playoffs and their rebuilding effort is ahead of schedule. They compete hard, but their best seasons are still ahead of them.
16. Colorado: Turnaround from the worst team in 2016-17 to making the playoffs is an accomplishment. Forward Nathan MacKinnon was an offensive beast. But the Avalanche are missing workhorse defenseman Erik Johnson and goalie Semyon Varlamov because of injuries.