Penguins Vs. Canadiens: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Confident

I find every reason to be worried about the Penguins at all times. This prevailing mindset exists in all fans of all sports teams, regardless of the quality or recent performance of that team, for two main reasons:

1) As a devoted fan to a particular team, one is uniquely privy to that team’s subtle weaknesses.

Commentators and casual Penguin-watchers might remark that Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best clutch goaltenders in the NHL, or that the Pens are loaded with offensive firepower on the blue line with Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski, and they wouldn’t be wrong. People who watch and root for the Penguins on a nightly basis, however, know that Fleury is capable of going into “Fleury…what??” mode and letting in unscreened wrist shots from any concessions stand on any given night, and that Gonchar, Letang and Goligoski all occasionally forget how to play the sport of hockey and become unable to stand in front of other human beings while in their defensive zone. These concerns aren’t extreme pessimism on the part of fans; they’re legitimate aspects that we notice and worry about because we’ve seen them happen hundreds of times.

2) Fans are always reserved about praising their own teams too highly for fear of jinxing them by celebrating prematurely.

Part of this is in a joking, supernatural “don’t want to jinx them!” kind of way, which people don’t actually believe (but dammit, we’re not deviating from it in the playoffs), but on a more practical level, fans also don’t want to appear overconfident and gloat and then have their team ultimately lose, which would make the situation far less digestible on all levels. By curbing our expectations in advance, we give ourselves an emotional safety net if our team loses, rather than the devastating free-fall we’d experience if we were positive the team was going to win and they didn’t.

Both of these reasons are completely legitimate and almost completely universal — you want to scream at Yankee fans when they get nervous when Mariano Rivera comes into the 9th inning of a game when the team’s up 3-1 in the playoff series, but that’s just what fans do. Who wants to be confident and rational about their own team? Douchebags, that’s who. Also rational people, I guess. No, only douchebags. There – proved it!

My point is, I am very much one of these always-worried people. I am extremely one of these people. And yet, having explained in depth all of this jargon about all fans making themselves worried at all times, I am extremely, almost dangerously confident about the Penguins heading into the Montreal series, and here’s why:

Short of a complete Fleury meltdown (not impossible), I really can’t see the Pens losing this series. Mike Cammalleri is a legit, near-star-caliber offensive force, and he’s definitely gonna slip some frustrating wrist shots past Fleury from the top of the circle, but are we expecting him to outperform Crosby and Malkin in a best-of-seven series? I’m not.

Jaroslav Halak has played out of his mind the past couple games, but he played poorly enough in games 2 and 3 of the Capitals series to get benched, and even with his insanity against Washington, his team barely squeaked out of the series. The Penguins’ offense isn’t Washington’s, sure, but it seems nearly inconceivable that Halak’s level of play will continue to this extreme, and even if it should, through some improbable historical playoff miracle, I’m still confident the Pens could overcome it in a seven game series.

Hal Gill has become the early recipient of “let’s praise this random defensive defenseman so it looks like we’re smart and don’t only notice guys who score” media praise, but is any Penguin fan actually worried about the prospects of Hal Gill covering Sidney Crosby? Let me rephrase that: Is any Penguin fan not extremely, giddily excited about the prospects of Hal Gill covering Sidney Crosby? That’s what I thought.

I also foresee the Pens’ third line being a serious difference-maker in this series. The Canadiens lack size up front, and will ultimately end up either having to play one of their top lines against the Staal line and getting severely out-physicalled, or to match their third line up with the Pens’ third line and getting severely outskilled. Staal, Malkin, Ponikarovsky and Rupp are all taller than any forward on Montreal (save possibly Benoit Pouliot); this isn’t basketball, obviously, but over the course of seven games in a theoretically tighter-checking Playoff environment, size is a huge plus for the Penguins.

So that brings us to the underlying question: Is it dangerous to be this confident? How is it that I, Penguin Doomsayer Extraordinaire, am overwhelmingly confident that the Pens are going to beat a team that just knocked off a team that I was nearly as positive was going to later knock off the Pens? Does that mean that the Pens really do match up that well with Montreal, or is there an inherent doom to any situation that seems so comprehensively clear-cut?

As with all Penguin games, we’ll know the answer to these rhetorical questions five long distance wrist shots on Fleury into Game One.

Pens in Five.

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