Ranking the playoff forward groups

Led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have the best forward group among the 16 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

There were plenty of good reasons why the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last spring. Coach Mike Sullivan came in and instilled a new culture of relentless pursuit of winning that paid off in a big way. Matt Murray was an incredible story in goal. Kris Letang was a beast on defense.

But if you had to distill it down to one thing, the Penguins won in large part because teams couldn’t match up with their forward group. Try and stop Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin's line would perform. Focus on Malkin and Crosby and the Phil Kessel line would go off. That a star player like Phil Kessel rarely saw top-pairing defensemen or shutdown lines at even strength in the playoffs says everything you need to know about the matchup nightmare the Penguins became.

It goes to show you how valuable a deep forward group can be in the spring. For the Penguins, it was everything. So as we embark on the 2017 Stanley Cup tournament, here’s a ranking of all 16 forward groups in the postseason:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins