Penguins have one thing going for them, no pressure

Zuccarello will be a key for the NYR (getty images)

Zuccarello will be a key for the NYR (getty images)

We are one day away from the start of the playoffs for the New York Rangers, as they prepare for a long run, Pittsburgh is just happy to be here. Unlike last season, where the Penguins were considered a favorite to win it all, there are little expectations this year.

The Penguins backed into the postseason on the strength of a strong start. How lucky are they? In their final 15 games, the Pens went 4-9-2 and picked up only 10 out of a possible 30 points.

Evgeni Malkin who is rumored to not be 100% played in 7 of those 15 games and finished with 2 assists and a -7 rating. His absence and poor play have severely impacted the Penguins offense who are also without stud defenseman Kris Letang due to a concussion.

The Pens have scored only 25 goals in their last 15 games and allowed 44 goals against. That’s basically an average of 1.66 goals for per game while giving up 2.93. In contrast the Rangers in their last 15 have scored 45 goals (3.00 GFA) and only allowed 35 against (2.33 GAA).

So the Penguins basically have all their excuses to lose this series lined up. Let’s run through them:

1. Their 3 top offensive defensemen Kris Letang (concussion), Olli Maata (shoulder) and Christian Erhoff (UBI) are out for the foreseeable future in this series.

2. Evgeni Malkin may be playing hurt.

3. This is the first year under a new coach and a new system.

Recently, Penguins head coach Mike Johnston was quoted as saying that his team needs to break out of their slump by looking for quality over quantity in their shot selection.

[su_quote cite=”Via Jason Mackey of TribLive” url=”http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/8154712-74/penguins-shots-percentage#axzz3XO5ZghdZ”]“For me, it’s quality shots in the red zone, which is in that slot area, out to the dots, that higher-slot area. We’ve got to get second-chance opportunities or first-chance opportunities in those areas.”[/su_quote]

Well if that’s what they intend on trying to do, they are fighting an uphill battle as the Rangers are one of the better defensive teams in the league. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal gave the Pens fits dating back to last postseason. The Rangers also won the President’s Trophy and are considered a heavy favorite in this series and to go all the way.

ESPN’s Scott Burnside spoke with Sidney Crosby and asked him about being the underdog. Crosby didn’t want to dwell on it too much but you know it’s in play.

[su_quote cite=”ESPN” url=”http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/12685531/nhl-qa-pittsburgh-penguins-captain-sidney-crosby”]We know what we have to do as a team to be successful. There are pros and cons to both, to be honest with you. And I think we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and there are a lot of expectations on our team, regardless of whether we’re the underdog or not — there are still expectations. I think having to deal with that all season long is something that hopefully helps us here. That’s nothing new for us, but the fact that we aren’t going in [having played] the last five, 10 games just trying to stay healthy and just kind of counting them down and maybe losing that edge a little bit — the fact we’re going in fighting, I’m not too disappointed about that. It’s not a bad thing.[/su_quote]

Crosby is the underdog (Getty)

Crosby is the underdog (Getty)

While the pressure may be off on the Penguins, the Rangers seem to take pressure and turn it into a positive performance on the ice. They also understand that it takes 16 hard fought wins to hold the Cup and they know the pain of watching another team skate with it in person.

The Rangers shouldn’t expect an easy series and they probably aren’t buying into the hype that they are going to run over Pittsburgh. If they play to their capabilities and the Penguins continue to play as they have been, this could be a sweep. But this team is going to approach game 1 of the playoffs as they have every game this season, with poise and confidence.