Beware, Brother Beware – Penguins Can’t Fly But They Can Win

 

There’s a reverse theme for the Rangers in FDR’s stirring inspirational message to Americans at that critical, historic time in the 1930s.

As the Blueshirts prepare tonight to challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden, the only thing coach Alain Vigneault‘s skaters have to fear is overconfidence itself.

Confidence is fine and in enormous abundance throughout the Rangers camp following a President’s Trophy-winning season.

Add to that a veritable avalanche of stories, running all this week, telling everyone what we already know; that is, how fabulous a favorite the Rangers are right now.

Which is well and good as long as confidence doesn’t spill over to over-confidence and then, well, as the late, great saxaphonist-composer Louis Jordan once said, “Beware, brother, beware!”

Apart from overconfidence, there remain some overlooked elements on the Penguins side which could cause trouble for New York and I don’t mean the obvious double-dippers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Consider these:

PATRIC HORNQVIST

The former Predators right winger enjoys excellent chemistry with Crosby and could be an offensive “sleeper” while the Rangers focus on the likely suspects.

pit_steve-downie_20150416

STEVE DOWNIE

Both a mayhem-maker as well as an offensive-threat, the much-traveled right winger is capable of un-nerving his foes. He’s also the NHL’s leading penalty-minute leader and that element could play right into the Rangers hands. Likewise, if Downie avoids the sin bin he can be very effective. Which version of Stout Steve shows up will be a factor in this playoff.

MARC-ANDRE FLEURY

Often reviled, Fleury played at a high level this regular season, leading the NHL with ten shutouts. He tended goal with a confidence never before seen in his 10-season career.

My Pittsburgh correspondent, Vince Communale, e-mails me this cogent comment:

“Fleury is capable of stealing a game or two. This spring the Penguins only chance might be their goaltender.”

Nay; I’ll go beyond that point. Pittsburgh’s lineup is sprinkled with considerable playoff experience. Those roster figures include Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Rob Scuderi and Craig Adams. Each has been to multiple Stanley Cup Final rounds.

“A team with as much playoff experience,” Comunale adds, “should never be taken lightly. One question will be whether they can keep their composure.”

Nevertheless, respected oddsmakers have placed the Rangers on top; favorites to win The Cup. They are ahead of – in this order –  Chicago, St.Louis, Anaheim, Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Nashville, among the better clubs.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, comes in at 16-1; tied with Vancouver and ahead of Detroit, the Islanders, Ottawa, Washington, Calgary and, finally, Winnipeg at 25-1.

Those 16-1 numbers are rooted in the facts; the Penguins suffered through a season of decimating injuries. They staggered to the finish line and were only able to dress five healthy defensemen in their final two regular season games.

Since last year’s series, the Rangers have figured out defending Crosby and Malkin and are ready with a healthy Henrik Lundqvist.

Henrik Lundqvist talks about entering the playoffs as a favorite and his thoughts on facing Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

“I feel well prepared,” says The King, “and I’m excited to get going.”

That said, beware, Your Majesty, beware!