As fate would have it, the two teams predicted by many to meet in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals have both been bounced in the first round, eliminated on the same day. Pittsburgh was trounced 5-1 by the Philly Flyers, the players sent home for the summer. This forces me to rescind my statement from March declaring the Penguins 2012 Stanley Cup champions (which has become a tradition of sorts on the Slatekeeper blog). This was one of the most entertaining first round match-ups you could ever watch. It would have been nice if they played a best of 15 with the winner going directly to the Conference finals, but sadly the NHL doesn't work that way. Jordan Staal led the Pens in scoring, but without question the story of the series for Pittsburgh was brutal defensive play and surprisingly weak goaltending. Claude Giroux was the best player on either team, and that's why they play the games.
The Pens automatically become one of the favourites to win next year, however they have a glaring weakness on the blueline. It will be hard for them to address this need when they are already burdened with two terrible contracts in Paul Martin ($5M) and Zybnek Michalek ($4M) for 3 more seasons. If they do not add a single forward in the offseason, they'll be fine, but something must be done about the defense. Martin and Michalek have limited no movement clauses, so trading them will be tricky, especially considering it's doubtful any GM would be stupid enough to take either guy. Somehow I doubt that Penguins ownership is willing to eat the contracts and send them to the minors, Wade Redden style.
The Penguins don't have the same dilemma as a San Jose, to blow it up or not to blow it up, because they have a solid young core that puts them in an elite class of team for years to come. There is no reason for Penguins fans to despair, other than being angry about a fluke loss to a hated rival. Chalk up this series to being on the losing side of psychological warfare, learn from the mistakes, and set the sights on being the 2013 Stanley Cup champions. If I had to make a prophecy for next season, I'd say that the Penguins will play more playoff games than the Canucks. Take that to the bank.