Like the robins returning and baseball opening its season, a sure sign of spring in recent years has been a preponderance of predictions that the Penguins would win the Stanley Cup.
Except that they haven't proved those prognosticators correct since 2009, and, this year, they apparently have fallen somewhat out of favor. Or, at least, the Penguins aren't such a consensus pick.
The Boston Bruins, who swept the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final last year, won the Presidents' Trophy with an NHL-leading 117 points and would seem to be the favorite to at least come out of the East.
Four teams from the West followed Boston in the league standings, ahead of the sixth-place Penguins, who finished with 109 points. Another four teams reached triple digits, including Chicago, a team that has won the Cup twice since the Penguins last raised it.
"The last couple of years, people have talked a lot about our team. We've had a good chance to win," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "Obviously, this year that's not the case. There are teams that have played better than us, have better records than us -- some good teams in the West, and the Bruins have earned their right to be considered the favorites in the East."
Picking one favorite this year might be a tricky dice roll.
"You can roll an octagon down the side of the street, and the Penguins' name is going to be on one of [the eight sides]," said former Penguins player, coach and broadcaster Ed Olczyk, now a color analyst for Chicago and nationally.
"The East seems to be a little more predictable, but matchups become an important part, too, once you get to the playoffs. ... I don't think there's any doubt that Boston is the favorite, but the Penguins are within an arm's reach. They're right there as the second favorite in my opinion -- and getting healthy. They've been there, done that. Maybe not the favorite, but one of those teams."
The Penguins open their 2014 quest for the Cup Wednesday when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit Consol Energy Center for Game 1 of a best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Gambling house Bovada installed the Penguins as a 7-1 shot Monday to claim the Cup. Boston was the favorite at 7-2, followed by St. Louis at 6-1, the Penguins, Chicago at 8-1, Anaheim and San Jose at 9-1 each, and Los Angeles at 10-1.
"I'm pretty sure that's a part of the job of the pundits, to have to pick a favorite. I don't think it's a very good job to have," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
"If you tried to pick who was going to come out of the West right now, you're going to have a tough time because at least two of the matchups are going to be [between] four of the teams that could be favored to come out of the West. So, it's a tough job to pick a favorite.
"It's something that everyone wants to do, and does pick the favorite, but I think it's a tough job to try to come up with one."
Perhaps confidence in the Penguins has waned some because they haven't been able to repeat with a collection of elite players -- including centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, defenseman Kris Letang and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury -- in their primes.
In 2010, the Penguins lost in the second round to Montreal.
In 2011, they fell in the first round to Tampa Bay, but Adams noted that year as an exception -- "I don't think we were considered the favorites," he said -- because Crosby and Malkin were injured.
In 2012, they washed out against rival Philadelphia in the first round.
Last year was the closest they have come to getting back to the Cup final after reaching that point in 2008 and 2009.
"When you see year after year of your team being [picked to win], you know how hard it is to win, advance, move on, get through four rounds and end up being the Stanley Cup champion," Bylsma said.
That doesn't mean these Penguins are exempt from expectations.
"There's a lot of pressure on this team, for sure," Olczyk said. "The last four years, everybody expected them to get to the finals with the team that's been assembled. The longer you don't get there, the more pressure that builds. Everybody's got to deal with that."
Anything short of the final, if not the Cup, could be interpreted as a failure.
"Regardless of whether people say it or not, if we don't win it, we will have fallen short of our goal," Adams said. "It doesn't matter what people are saying. I don't know if other guys prefer ... not the underdog role, but not being the favorite. To me, it doesn't really matter."
He has an ally in Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
"Maybe people don't see us as much as the favorite" as in some recent years, he said.
"I think that's fine. No problem."
Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published April 14, 2014 11:49 PM