PITTSBURGH — There is nothing routine or stale for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they begin their quest for their third straight Stanley Cup Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG Paints Arena in a first-round playoff series opener.
“I still pinch myself almost every day that you get to be a part of something like this [url=http://www.packerscheapstore.com/reggie-white-jersey-cheap]Reggie White Jersey[/url] ,” said Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray, who won each of the past two Stanley Cups while technically a rookie under NHL rules.
“It’s just so exciting. It’s like Christmas when you’re a kid almost. You know how much fun you had watching when you were a kid. I’ll bet you I’ll feel like that for years and years. It’s really cool that I get to be here. I’m just trying to cherish that.”
They’re also trying hard to win it all again, while not overlooking the journey.
“Certainly, the expectation within our room is that we have the ability to compete,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We know that it’s hard, and we know that we’ve got to go out and earn it each and every day, each and every game. That’s where our mindset is. I don’t think any of us are trying to reflect on where this team stands.”
The Penguins finished second in the Metropolitan Division, just two points ahead of the Flyers, but seem to enter their first-round series as a bigger favorite than that margin would indicate, more than likely based on Pittsburgh’s recent postseason success.
Philadelphia isn’t arguing that point, but the team isn’t accepting anything as a foregone conclusion, either.
“We didn’t expect very many people to pick us to come out of this series, and that’s OK,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s a quiet belief in our dressing room. … We’re the underdog. We’re pegged that. We know that. We’re playing against a hell of a hockey team that has a lot of experience at the playoff level. We’ve got to go out and earn it, and that’s what we’ll do.”
There are a couple more tangible reasons for Pittsburgh to be favored.
The Penguins, who have home-ice advantage in the series, were 30-9-2 at PPG Paints Arena during the regular season. They also have the most potent power play in the NHL going into the postseason, with a 26.2 percent success rate.
And then there were the head-to-head meetings. Pittsburgh swept the four games, scoring five goals in each, with star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combining for 14 points.
“I know we didn’t get the points that we wanted in the games against them, but I think out of the four games, in three of them we played really well and kind of let a few games get away,” Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov told the Philadelphia Daily News. “It doesn’t matter now. It’s a clean sheet now in the playoffs and all our focus is on getting the first win.”
Both teams have players who excelled during the regular season. Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux finished second in the league scoring race with 102 points. Pittsburgh’s Malkin was third with 98 points, while teammates Phil Kessel (92) and Crosby (89) ranked eighth and 10th.
The last time these teams met in the playoffs, in 2012, also in the first round [url=http://www.baltimoreravensteamauthentic.com/anthony-averett-jersey]Authentic Anthony Averett Jersey[/url] , Philadelphia not only upset Pittsburgh in six games but also got under the Penguins’ skins with a physical, agitating style that led to several Pittsburgh star players getting involved in fights and scrums.
The only Penguins remaining from that team are Crosby, Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, but all three engaged in the uncharacteristic behavior in the 2012 series.
“We’re all over 30 years old now. We’re supposed to be mature,” Letang said. “I mean, it was. … whatever it was, it was in the moment. Emotional. We have a different team, different experience, different coaching staff. Everything is different, so we don’t even look at that.”
Philadelphia has five holdovers from that series — Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds.
Couturier said this time the Flyers’ motivation is to win in a more direct way.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best game or a full 60 minutes against Pittsburgh yet,” he told the Daily News. “I like our chances if we play some good hockey and focus for 60 minutes, maybe even more.”
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (12-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Ochsner Sports Performance Center, Metairie, Louisiana
LAST YEAR: Helped by infusion of elite young talent, Saints pulled out of three-year rut of mediocrity and won NFC South. They were seconds away from advancing to NFC title game, only to be thwarted by Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs' winning touchdown as time expired in divisional round. New Orleans received major contributions from running back and Offensive Rookie of Year Alvin Kamara, and cornerback and Defensive Rookie of Year Marshon Lattimore. Several other first-and second-year players filled regular roles as well, and veteran Drew Brees remained one of NFL's top QBs.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Demario Davis, S Kurt Coleman, CB Patrick Robinson, WR Cameron Meredith, Rookie DE Marcus Davenport.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Kenny Vaccaro [url=http://www.officialhockeyrangersshop.com/authentic-adidas-mika-zibanejad-jersey]Adidas Mika Zibanejad Jersey[/url] , TE Coby Fleener, WR Willie Snead, G Senio Kelemete, RT Zach Strief, CB Delvin Breaux.
CAMP NEEDS: Lineup is relatively stable from last-season's playoff run, but New Orleans looking to bolster pass rush by finding someone who can make offenses pay for sending multiple blockers at All-Pro end Cameron Jordan. Saints want Davenport to develop into that player. But he is raw in first season out of UTSA. Saints also want to figure out which running backs can fill in for Mark Ingram during his four-game suspension to open season. Veteran free agents Shane Vereen and Terrence West, along with draft pick Boston Scott and second-year pro Trey Edmunds, are competing for those snaps.
EXPECTATIONS: Saints appear to have gotten stronger and deeper than last season, particularly with additions on defense. Keys to improving are how well new players fit and, as usual, avoiding injuries. If Davenport develops quickly, Saints could be elite. If not, teams with good plan to block Jordan could give New Orleans fits.
AP NFL website: pro32.ap.org and AP_NFL
CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-6)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina
LAST YEAR: Panthers enjoyed bounce-back season after failing to reach playoffs in 2017. Carolina lost three times to New Orleans, including wild-card playoffs. No deep threat, lengthy injury to TE Greg Olsen and poor pass protection doomed offense. Defense remained one of NFL's best behind high MLB Luke Kuechly.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookie WR D.J. Moore, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jarius Wright, RB C.J. Anderson, RB Kenjon Barner, G Jeremiah Sirles, DT Dontari Poe, rookie CB Donte Jackson, CB Ross Cockrell [url=http://www.thecowboysfootballauthentic.com/leighton-vander-esch-jersey-authentic]Youth Leighton Vander Esch Jersey[/url] , S Da'Norris Searcy.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: G Andrew Norwell, RB Jonathan Stewart, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Charles Johnson, S Kurt Coleman, CB Daryl Worley, QB Derek Anderson.
CAMP NEEDS: Panthers need to adjust to three new coordinators: Norv Turner (offense), Eric Washington (defense) and Chase Blackburn (special teams). Turner's relationship with QB Cam Newton critical to team's success. Second-year RB Christian McCaffrey is featured back with Jonathan Stewart gone. Team expected to use more two tight end sets, play-action under Turner. Addition of WRs D.J. Moore, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright should bolster passing game. Washington inherits defense looking to replace four starters (Lotulelei, Johnson, Coleman and Worley). Kuechly, DT Kawann Short, LB Thomas Davis, CB James Bradberry and pass-rushing tandem Julius Peppers and Mario Addison (11 sacks each) all return. GM Marty Hurney thrilled with second-round pick CB Donte Jackson, who'll start.
EXPECTATIONS: Core of team that's been to postseason four of past five seasons remains intact, but aging quickly. Peppers is 38, S Mike Adams 37, Davis 35, and C Ryan Kalil and Olsen are 33. Newton is 29. Plenty of pressure to win now under new owner David Tepper before window closes. Carolina should compete for NFC South title with New Orleans and Atlanta if offense improves.
ATLANTA FALCONS (11-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Falcons practice facility, Flowery Branch, Georgia
LAST YEAR: One year after reaching Super Bowl, Falcons finished third in NFC South and lost to Philadelphia in second round of playoffs. Quarterback Matt Ryan, working under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian, had decline in production from 2016 [url=http://www.packerscheapstore.com/davante-adams-jersey-cheap]Davante Adams Jersey[/url] , when team led NFL in scoring. Ryan still signed five-year, $150 million deal in offseason. Good news is young defense, led by speedy linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, allowed 318.4 yards per game, significant drop from 371.2 in 2016.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: G Brandon Fusco, rookie WR Calvin Ridley, TE Logan Paulsen, CB Justin Bethel, rookie DT Deadrin Senat, QB coach Greg Knapp, RB coach Bernie Parmalee.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Dontari Poe, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Taylor Gabriel, FB Derrick Coleman, TE Levine Toilolo.
CAMP NEEDS: Spotlight will be on WR Julio Jones after team announced it won't renegotiate his current $71.5 million contract. Jones has three years remaining in five-year deal. Jones did not attend minicamp, and training camp holdout could be major distraction to "brotherhood" atmosphere promoted by coach Dan Quinn. Defensive front will be concern following losses of Poe and Clayborn. Senat could have opportunity for immediate playing time, if not starting role. Ridley needs to prove he can handle No. 3 receiver spot behind Jones and Mohamed Sanu and be ready for even bigger role.
EXPECTATIONS: Ryan is 33, Jones is 29, RB Devonta Freeman had two concussions, including one in preseason, and knee injury last season, and RB Tevin Coleman could be free agent after this season. These are all alarm signals as window for current offense is narrowing. While young defense is emerging as team's strength, Atlanta's offense needs to re-emerge in second season with Sarkasian if team can have real hope for second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Addition of Fusco should add more stability to interior offensive line. Competitive NF [url=http://www.officialusafootballs.com/seattle-seahawks]Youth Seattle Seahawks Jerseys[/url]
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