Dunlap: It Is Cup Or Bust

Anything less than a third straight title would disappoint

Colin Dunlap
April 26, 2018 - 1:22 pm

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Stop the insanity. All of it. Don't even breathe a word of it because, well, it is nothing but insanity. 

I heard some nonsense from a couple places --- most notably on the radio at 93.7 The Fan --- that the Pittsburgh Penguins have already accomplished much this season. Heard this narrative that, from here on out, it is all gravy. Yeah, something about house money or something. All because they got past the Philadelphia Flyers and now the Washington Capitals await, and by virtue of their finish in the regular season, the Caps should be the favored team in this series. Moving forward, if the Penguins would by some chance advance, Tampa could be waiting --- and we all know how great Tampa was in the regular season. So there have been some thoughts flying around that what the Penguins accomplish from here on out could be viewed as a bonus. They've already been great; rah, rah, rah! Enjoy the ride; rah! rah! rah!

Whatever. 

Just stop it. End it. Gather yourself and remember we are talking about the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. So here it is: Anything less than a(nother) Stanley Cup for this bunch should be viewed as a disappointment. I don't know how you feel and, as always, you are free to form your own opinion, but I am firmly parking my car in the 'Stanley Cup or bust' lot. In a way, I don't see how everyone else isn't --- but again, you are free to form your own opinion. 

As for this notion that the Capitals could be the better team or it would be some sort of "bonus" to beat them, I'm just not seeing it. We all know the history of Braden Holtby playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins and he has had about as much success against Pittsburgh as Wile E. Coyote has against the Road Runner. Certainly Alex Ovechkin is the greatest pure goal scorer of our time and Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin are dealing with injuries that are detrimental to the Penguins' chances, but so what? This Penguins-Capitals matchup in the playoffs has turned into the equivalent of the NHL's version of the Steelers and Patriots -- a team trying like hell to get by a nemesis in the postseason but, for whatever reason, they just can never do it. That's where we are in all of this. There is something psychologically at play right now with the Capitals when they see the Penguins in the playoffs and you will never convince me otherwise. 

On top of that, Matt Murray hasn't known anything but playoff success. He has an uncanny knack (especially in the playoffs) of being able to shake off a bad performance by coming back and being stellar the next time out. He showed as much between Games 2 and 3 in the Philadelphia series. Heck, he showed an ability to shake things off in the throes of Game 6 against the Flyers as he was terrible early but buckled down and made key saves as the game progressed. That said, am I suddenly supposed to believe that Holtby will learn how to play against the Penguins or Murray will lose that bounce-back-ability this series? No way. Again, that's part of the reason why I am fully subscribing to this Stanley Cup or bust mentality right now.  

What we are seeing right now in Pittsburgh is one of the greatest assemblages of talent in the salary cap era in the NHL. This Penguins team has star power but also is dotted with the type of role guys (think Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin) who raise their level of play when they games are the biggest. So tell me again why anything less than a third-straight Stanley Cup would be deemed a success? Go ahead and tell me, but I won't buy it.