In the playoffs, there can be much ballyhoo about which team can beat which team, who the hot goalie is, who can score the big goal, etc, etc. But an important, and maybe the most important item, which no one ever talks about -- who has the weakest top-4 defenseman?
Once the playoffs start, and all the chips are on the table, coaches are shortening the bench and giving most of the important minutes to the top 4, not the bottom 2. The bottom 2 are there to give breathers in the close games, and to eat minutes in the games that are already decided. Here's a list of the top 4 on the last X cup winning teams:
2010: Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson.
2009: Sergei Gonchar, Brooks Orpik, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi
2008: Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Nicklas Kromwall, Brad Stuart
2007: Scott Niedermeyer, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin, Sean O'Donnell
Starting to see the trend?
So look at the top 4 on the Pens, and see how they compare with the above list. Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Zybnek Michalek. Not too shabby, eh? As long as Letang doesn't die of exhaustion before the playoffs, he easily belongs with the above company. Brooks is already on the list. Martin, assuming his occasional stupid attacks (defined as fun to watch chances taken, but usually lethal to Fleury/Johnson) wither away in the playoffs belongs there. And over the last 20 games, Michalek seems to have really become comfortable in the system and played like a real shut down defenseman.
So that looks like a formidable top 4, when compared to past cup winners. Does anybody in the East stack up better? The view here is no, but feel free to make a case otherwise in the comments.