No, the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins are not the best team in the NHL. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions, though. Currently in third place in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins trail front-runner Washington by seven points and second-place Columbus by three points at this writing.
However, the Penguins do lead the league in scoring with 3.55 goals per game (the Blues are ranked 11th at 2.84 goals per game), ably led by Sidney Crosby (28 goals, 56 points), Evgeni Malkin (22 goals, 54 points), Phil Kessel (15 goals, 47 points), Conor Sheary (17 goals, 35 points) and defenseman Justin Schultz (8 goals, 35 points). By comparison, the Blues leading scorers are Vlad Tarasenko (23 goals, 50 points) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (11 goals, 35 points).
Both the Blues and the Penguins were birthed into the NHL’s Western Division, which existed from 1967 until 1974, when the league was realigned into two conferences of two divisions each. Pittsburgh moved to the Norris Division and St. Louis was placed in the Smythe Division. And then, in 1981, the Penguins were relocated to the Patrick Division, while the Blues became members of the Norris Division. And to further confuse you, the Norris Division was reconfigured to the Clarence Campbell (Western) Conference from the Prince of Wales (Eastern) Conference that year, while the Patrick Division went from the Clarence Campbell Conference to the Prince of Wales Conference. Got it?
St. Louis and Pittsburgh have met three times in postseason play. The Blues won the Division Finals in 1970, winning four games to the Penguins’ two, thus earning the right to be thumped by Boston in the Finals, 4-0. Pittsburgh beat the Blues in the first round of the 1975 playoffs, two games to none (yes, you read that correctly). The 1975 playoffs used a new format as the postseason was opened to 12 teams, up from the previous eight. The top three teams in each division would qualify. The opening round would be a best-of-three series, and the Penguins won two in a row to take that firs- round series from the Note.
However, the Blues came back to beat the Pens in the opening round in 1981, three games to two, when the round was a best-of-five series. St. Louis was the Smythe Division champion with 107 points, while Pittsburgh finished 15th overall with 73 points. The Blues took the series lead winning game one in St. Louis, 4-2. The Penguins offense exploded in game two as they won 6-4 with defenseman Randy Carlyle, current head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, scoring two goals. Game three in Pittsburgh went to the Blues, 5-4, in a back-and-forth affair. Bernie Federko was the star of the game with two goals, one the game-winner, and an assist. The Penguins avoided elimination in game four with a 6-3 victory. Mike Bullard (added by the Blues from Calgary in 1988 as part of the infamous Doug Gilmour trade) and Carlyle each had two goals and an assist.
So, on April 14 the two teams met at the Checkerdome to break the tie. Pittsburgh took a first-period lead (of course Carlyle assisted on the goal, by center Paul Gardner), but Federko set up Brian Sutter to tie the game in the second period. Another Penguin goal was offset by Federko’s fourth goal of the series. The teams traded goals in the third period (Rick Lapointe for the Blues and Greg Malone for the Pens) and overtime was required, actually, two overtimes. Through four periods of play, St. Louis had 51 shots on Greg Millen’s net, while Pittsburgh managed 46 against Mike Liut. Both teams were weary and exhausted at that point, so Blues’ coach Red Berenson had a plan for the second overtime that involved little-used forward Mike Crombeen, who was somewhat ill that night. Realizing an indisposed Crombeen was fresher and more capable than other drained, tired-out forwards, he put the feisty winger on a line with center Mike Zuke.
The Penguins came out strong in the second overtime, forcing Liut to make five more saves, yet somehow defenseman Lapointe cleared the zone and dumped the puck into the Pittsburgh defensive zone without committing an icing infraction. A resilient Zuke hunted down the puck and passed it out of the corner to Crombeen, who fired it past Millen at 5:16 for a 4-3 victory that clinched the series. This would be the last time these two teams would meet in postseason play.
St. Louis and Pittsburgh have manufactured 18 trades in 50 years. The first was in June 1968 when the Blues shipped center Lou Angotti to the Pens for winger Ab McDonald. A year later, Angotti was sent back to St. Louis (along with a number-one draft pick, Gene Carr) for Craig Cameron, Ron Schock and a second-round pick. There were minor deals of no consequence in 1969 and 1973, and then in January 1974 the Blues shipped Ab Demarco Jr., Battleship Bob Kelly and Steve Durbano to the Pens for winger Greg Polis, Bryan “Bugsy” Watson and a 1974 second-round draft pick that turned out to be Bobby Hess. Other minor deals from 1975 until the present included players such as defenseman Bob Stewart going to Pittsburgh (for winger Blair Chapman), defensemen J.J. Daigneault and Marc Bergevin becoming Penguins (for draft picks or future considerations) and center Maxim Lapierre trading places with Marcel Goc in January 2015. The last deal between these two teams was in March of 2015 when the Blues acquired Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round pick (winger Filip Helt from the Czech Republic) for Ian Cole.
So, can the Blues and their new coach take two in a row from the mighty Penguins?