Rest of NHL aims to prevent Penguins Stanley Cup three-peat

From FOX Sports - September 17, 2017

Each time Seth Jones felt like the Columbus Blue Jackets were dominating, the Pittsburgh Penguins went down the ice and scored. The series was over fast.

T.J. Oshie knows the feeling because the Penguins did it to the Washington Capitals often during playoff series the past two years.

It kind of deflates what were doing and its hard to trust your game after that, Oshie said.

Opportunistic, well-coached and talented, Pittsburgh has won eight consecutive playoff series to become the NHLs only back-to-back Stanley Cup champion of the salary-cap era and the first since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Now everyones trying to figure out how to stop the march of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins as they go for the three-peat.

Its not one thing, Jones said. Theres not a Crosby stopper. Theres not a Malkin stopper. You cant put a stop on them. You just have to contain them.

No one has contained them so far. The Penguins mowed through the New York Rangers, Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks to win the Cup in 2016 and then the Blue Jackets, Capitals, Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators in 2017, and only three of those series needed seven games.

Patrick Kane acknowledged that while he and the Chicago Blackhawks used to be the standard after winning the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015, the Penguins have surpassed them. While the Los Angeles Kings rivaled the Blackhawks during their heyday, the Penguins have shown to be unbeatable when it matters most.

It seems like theyre on the brink sometimes, and they find their way out of it, Kane said. Just watching games, its almost like you have that feeling that theyre going to win, especially in playoffs. Whether thats the coaching staff or the players or just that organization, it seems like they have something pretty special going right now.

If there are cracks in Pittsburghs armor, they came this offseason with the losses of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Trevor Daley and forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen. But Crosby, Malkin, goalie Matt Murray, winger Phil Kessel, top defenseman Kris Letang and coach Mike Sullivan remain, which explains why the Penguins are favored to win again and make it three in a row for the first time since the early 1980s New YorkIslanders dynasty.

When you get Sid, Geno, Letang on the team, you always have a chance, said Fleury, who went to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Thats how I felt every time. When every season started I always felt like we had a chance to do great. I think theyll be dangerous again.

Usually the grind of playing over 100 games in a season wears on a team. Ryan Getzlaf, whose Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007 and lost in the first round the next year, said a team needs luck and a group thats able to sustain a high level of game through fatigue the entire next year.

Now that the Penguins have sustained to win twice, no ones betting against them doing it again.

Theyre a good team, and theyre going to continue to be a good team, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. Theyre the heavyweight champs right now, and youve just got to knock them off.

Easier said than done. Now maybe Murray will struggle with a heavier workload or the depth that Fleury said paved the way to the championships will wear thin.

But if theres a blueprint to attacking the Penguins, it might be putting pressure on their blue line.

You have to play a physical style, but also you have to play a skill style, as well, Jones said. You got to get to them, you got to get to the defensemen, I think and thats something that teams may focus on.

The Penguins won last spring with a no-name defense while being outshot 794-718, yet they found ways to win. Oshie said any potential Pittsburgh-killer must be more resilient, and Predators defenseman Roman Josi knows theres a mental aspect to facing a team with so much success.

Once you win a lot of series, you start to believe more and more and the confidence grows, Josi said. As an opponent youve got to get in there and believe that you can beat them. Obviously its tough. Theyre a great team. But you got to have that belief.

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