Before I say what I am about to say, let me preface it by saying that I am being the Devil’s advocate. What I am about to suggest may very well happen, but I could very well be wrong too. Therefore, without further ado,
The Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins will not win the Stanley Cup.
In a shortened year in which these two teams have absolutely dominated the league, there is no way one team will win the cup. Now, the Penguins certainly have a better shot to win the cup, so let’s talk about them first. First of all, if the Penguins keep up their 15-game-win streak (as of April 1), they will eventually be the Presidents’ Trophy winners (awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season). Since the President’s Trophy has been awarded since the 1985-1986 season, only seven winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup, an award that should give the team the upper hand, considering it guarantees home-ice in all four rounds of the playoffs. Keeping up with recent trends, no President’s Trophy winner has gone on to win the Stanley Cup since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 2007-2008, and no team had done it before the same Red Wings did it in 2001-2002. Perhaps what is more startling is the recent trend of winners. In three of the last four seasons since the Red Wings won the Cup as the President’s Trophy winner, the highest scoring team has been knocked out in the first round. That means that the best regular-season team in the league has been knocked out, courtesy of an eighth-seed, three out of the last four years. Therefore, in keeping with recent trends, it only makes sense that the Pittsburgh Penguins (the top seed in the East) or the Chicago Blackhawks (the top seed in the West) will not win the Cup if they walk away with the President’s Trophy.
More specifically in Pittsburgh, the Penguins could be watching their hold on first place slip away with their loss of Sidney Crosby. Crosby broke his jaw and underwent surgery last week and is expected to miss the rest of the season, and his rehab and healing could carry into the playoffs, too. Just how important is Crosby to the Penguins? Crosby missed a majority of the past two years due to concussion-like symptoms inflicted in January 2011. In the 2011 season, Crosby only played for roughly half the year after being injured in the Winter Classic, yet finished as the leading scorer on his team, proving his value offensively. Last season, the Penguins were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs with a disheveled, still recovering Crosby. A broken jaw very well could have triggered the concussion-like symptoms in Crosby again, and now fans and players alike will have to wait to see when Sid the Kid can recover to full form.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are playing lights-out hockey relatively injury-free. There is one key problem with the way the Blackhawks are playing, and that’s the repetition of teams. Everybody who watches ESPN learned for the first time about hockey, and did so through the Blackhawks. Casual fans lived vicariously through “the streak”, and despite what analysts may think, the streak was incredibly impressive. The Blackhawks first regulation loss came against the Colorado Avalanche in the back end of a home-and-home after starting the season with 24 straight games with a point. But, once the Blackhawks started making rounds playing teams for the second and third time on the year, the losses started to pile up. In the second game against the Avalanche, the Blackhawks looked flat-out outplayed in a 6-2 crushing blow. The Blackhawks second loss came in their next game against the Edmonton Oilers, who they were matching up against for the second time during the season. The third loss came against the Anaheim Ducks, who beat them in their second game. During the first matchup, the Ducks won in a shootout, but the Blackhawks still did get a point. The fourth regulation loss came against the Los Angeles Kings, in their third meeting of the season. Finally, the fifth regulation loss came against the Ducks again. It may just be the flukiness of the NHL season, but the Blackhawks are not having as easy of a time with opponents on repeat occasions. In a 7-game-playoff series, the Blackhawks would need to find a way to win four games against the same team, four different times. I just can’t see them doing so, especially against a team like the Ducks, who have not lost to the Blackhawks this year yet.
It is with extreme hesitancy that I make my predictions about these two teams, because it could very well be a Pittsburgh-Chicago Stanley Cup Final. Yet, there are many question marks surrounding both teams that in the long run, it may not work out to either team.