Why have the Chicago Blackhawks dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins this season?
Scott Burnside: So, watching the Chicago Blackhawks dismantle the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 Wednesday night, pouring in four goals during the first period, do we see a meaningless late-season game for two playoff-bound teams from different conferences, or do we see a startling illustration of how difficult it is to repeat? The two teams have won five Stanley Cups between them since 2009 yet have never met in the finals as many have predicted, in part because it is so difficult to follow up one long playoff run with another. The Blackhawks have established themselves as a favorite to come out of the Western Conference, bolstered by a cadre of young forwards, but the Pens are beat up, playing without Evgeni Malkin, Kris LetangandOlli Maatta, among others. Can they get healthy enough to mount a serious challenge for a second straight Cup? History tells us Wednesday night is just an illustration of the natural order of things in the NHL and the toll that winning takes, even on the best teams.
Joe McDonald: To be the best, you've got to beat the best, right? That's the case every season for the defending Stanley Cup champion. When you're the Blackhawks, winners of three of the last seven Cups, and you don't own the current title, any game against the 2016 Cup-winning Penguins is a big deal. These two teams have created an interesting East vs. West rivalry, and the Blackhawks want to prove they're still the team to beat. Chicago understands it could face the Penguins in the finals, so why not send a message early and often? That's been the case this season, and outscoring the Pens 9-2 in the two-game season series bodes well for the Blackhawks in case that scenario plays out.
Craig Custance:It's a pretty small sample to figure out any trends or real matchup issues, but if these two teams played in the Stanley Cup finals, it's convincing enough that the Blackhawks would enter the series with a mental edge. Or not. As Scott said, there wasn't a lot on the line on Wednesday. If we're looking for a culprit, it doesn't help that Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is 0-2 with an .875 save percentage while allowing eight goals in those losses.