It was a rough week for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Three defeats out of four, 19 goals allowed. Even Marc-Andre Fleury, his superb season suppressed by the star power around him, stopped just 52 of 66 shots he faced (a .788 save percentage) in taking those three losses.
Two weeks ago, rivals raved about Pittsburgh's lineup.
"It's unfair," said one GM. "Beating them is going to be a major upset," said another. It seemed a foregone conclusion they would catch the Rangers, win the Atlantic Division and hold the Eastern Conference's number one seed for the playoffs.
Now, New York needs just one point (or one Pittsburgh loss) to prevent that. The respect for the Penguins' roster remains extremely high, but this team's put itself in a tougher spot.
Those same GMs (and some other execs) were asked what they saw as the Penguins' greatest weakness heading into the playoffs. The obvious answer was injuries, since some critical players (Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang) have unfortunate medical histories.
The second answer was a brutal early opponent. "If you're a big-time Stanley Cup contender, you'd love to see them get a team like Boston early on," one executive said. "Because, even if the Bruins lose, they're going to take a pound of flesh out of them."