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Why They Will Win

Why the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup

Crosby, Pittsburgh stars combine for first championship in seven years

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the League's hottest team and have the League's best player. It's a recipe they will use to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009.

The Penguins finished the regular season a far different team from the one that muddled through the first part of the season. They changed their identity Dec. 13 by firing coach Mike Johnston and replacing him with Mike Sullivan.

The results have been stunning as Sullivan has modified Pittsburgh's game plan to stress Pittsburgh's skill players, and more importantly has worked on the confidence of the group.

The Penguins went 33-16-5 under Sullivan despite losing the first four games of his tenure.

It is the stars who carry the load for these Penguins.

Sidney Crosby had six goals and 19 points in his first 28 games of the season and there were questions about whether his time as the best player in the game had passed. After the coaching change, he had 66 points in 52 games and is in the conversation for League MVP. Since January, Crosby had 12- and 11-game point streaks and points in eight straight to end the regular season. He has carried the Penguins in the absence of the injured Evgeni Malkin, who could return in time for the playoffs and give the Penguins the best 1-2 center punch in the League.

Video: PIT@NYR: Crosby tips in game-winning goal in OT

The Penguins also have an elite defenseman who has blossomed again under Sullivan. Kris Letang is in the Norris Trophy conversation and has been a dominating force since mid-December. He was fourth in the League with an average ice time per game of 26:56 and makes the offense go with his ability to key the transition and quarterback the offense from the attacking blue line.

Unlike past Penguins teams, the depth players are making regular contributions. They could roll Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel, a five-time 30-goal scorer, on different lines.

Eight players had at least 10 goals and six players had 40 or more points. That is the type of offensive depth that can wear down opponents and present matchup difficulties.

Starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is questionable because of a concussion; he last played March 31. Matt Murray had been solid in his absence, winning seven straight games, but he sustained an injury in the regular-season finale Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers in a goal-front collision with Brayden Schenn. But these Penguins are not as reliant on their goaltending as in previous seasons, and it's possible Fleury or Murray could be ready by the start of the postseason.

The Penguins have disappointed in the past, especially in a first-round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers last spring, but this time around they have all the tools, and the proper coach, to successfully navigate the route to 16 postseason victories and the celebration with the Stanley Cup that follows.

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