Friday, March 25, 2011

Penguins Down the Stretch

My brother e-mailed me earlier this week and basically asked: "Since the Pens are locked into the 4/5 match-up and so are the Lightning, how do you think we match up against Tampa?"

First of all, we'll find out how the Pens stack up vs. the Lightning next Thursday, March 31st.  Secondly, I don't think they're necessarily "locked in" to a particular seed.  They have a 16 point lead on the #9 seed with eight games to play, which means they have all but clinched a postseason bid.   They have a five point lead on fifth-seeded Tampa and a date with the Lightning in a little under a week, so they can create some separation there.

The interesting thing here is the fact that they're only four point behind Philly and the Flyers only have one game in hand.  They beat the Flyers last night on the road and have another chance to gain at least one point on Philly next Tuesday.

The Pens face only two playoff teams in their next eight games: Philly and Tampa.  The other six games are all non-playoff teams, including two against Florida (14th-best team in the conference) and two games against Da Devil.  Philly faces four playoff teams (Boston, Buffalo, Pens, Rangers), but they also have Ottawa on the schedule and two games against the Islanders.

If I had to bet on it, I would say the Pens are going to be the fourth seed, but I really do think they have a solid chance at winning the division.  Winning the division would not guarantee them the #1 seed, though, since the Capitals are playing great hockey right now and are only two points behind Philly in the race for the top seed.  Washington has clinched a playoff spot, though, and they've started resting Ovechkin to get him healthy for the playoffs, so it's very possible that whoever wins the Atlantic Division is the top-seeded team.

This has been a strange season from start to finish and I can't help but think the Pens have another surprise in store.

They started out kinda slow, had a players only meeting after only 11 games, got super red hot and looked unstoppable, then Staal comes back, they lose the Winter Classic in an uneven game against a team that was on the ropes and roared back for the season (Capitals have clinched a playoff spot and should be the #2 seed).  Then everyone gets hurt.  The team slumps with Baby Penguins masquerading as real Penguins.  Then everyone starts to come together, Shero makes a couple of fantastic trades, guys start coming back, suddenly it looks like they might make a deep Cup run without Crosby.  

All of that was just leading up to this past week.  Then the Rangers game happened on Sunday, which was a humiliating and demoralizing loss.  Cooke get suspended.  Then we come out firing against the Red Wings (they’re still a really good team).  Sure, they needed a shootout to win, but it’s just been a rollercoaster, with last night's shoot out win on the road over the division-leading Flyers serving as the cherry on top.  Or the loop in the Thunderbolt.  Or whatever completes that analogy.

I think Bylsma might have another rabbit up his sleeve.  With the closing schedule and the fact that they’re only four points back of the Flyers, with a game left against them at Console… I dunno.  Stranger things have happened.  A lot.  Mostly this season.  To the Penguins.

It's too early to say that this team is "locked in" for anything.  I think we need to follow the sage advice of John Connor, who said, "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."  Perhaps those inspirational words will bolster the Pens to a division title in the next two weeks.

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