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PHN Blog: The Crazy Penguins Playoff Scenario



Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins playoff chances jumped to a whopping 2.9% percent after they beat the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.

Of course, it’s a long shot. Of course, it’s wildly improbable, but there’s actually a chance the Penguins make the Stanley Cup playoffs if a couple of bounces go their way, and, of course, they do something they’ve been unable to do for most of this season: stack a few wins together.

So, here’s how it goes.

The Penguins trail the Washington Capitals by seven points with 10 games to go. Normally, that’s absolute game over. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

However, Washington has the Boston Bruins next on the schedule. Boston coach Jim Montgomery wasn’t very happy with his team this week, so he put them through a bag skate. They responded by beating the Florida Panthers on the first leg of their road trip but then lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston clinched a playoff berth Thursday night, but the message has been clear–they need to play better and do it now. Boston is going to be a tough game for the remainder of the regular season, and it won’t be an easy game for Washington.

Conversely, the Penguins face the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that isn’t good enough to get out of its own way.

The odds suggest after Saturday, the Penguins could be five points out of the playoffs with nine games remaining.

Still a long shot.

The Penguins then face the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers in back-to-back games. Let’s say the Penguins split, but Washington beats the Buffalo Sabres, as they should.

The Penguins would still trail by only five points with a looming showdown against the Capitals on April 4 at Capital One Center.

Pulling the thread further, the Penguins will have a golden opportunity if they beat the Capitals. How does a three-point deficit with five games to go grab you? Maybe, just maybe, the Penguins find a way to get three points out of their tri-state back-to-back, and the deficit could be two points.

Two or three points with five games remaining would be a pretty good spot. Not even a four-point deficit would be terrible. It sounds crazy, but that’s the board in front of the Penguins, if they can actually, you know, win games.

Detroit Red Wings

The poor Red Wings are trying to break a six-year playoff drought. Their upcoming schedule reads like a Stephen King novel: Panthers, Lightning, Rangers.

They face Buffalo, then — the Capitals and Penguins.

The Penguins also trail the New York Islanders by three points and New Jersey by two with a game in hand. Any of the teams could stack wins and claim the playoff spot.

It’s madness, I tell you! Given the Penguins’ recent influx of youth in the lineup and the lack of pressure, there have been a lot more happy faces in the locker room. It has been nice to walk into the room without the heaviness of losing and the stench of despair.

It’s also a fun possibility that makes the last couple of weeks a lot more interesting.

Jeff Carter, Tristan Jarry

Readers made a little fuss Thursday night when coach Mike Sullivan put Jeff Carter back in the lineup ahead of Jonathan Gruden. How dare Sullivan, doesn’t he know Carter stinks?

Refer to the above playoff scenario. It’s about winning games, whether you want the Penguins to win or not. Carter is Sam Poulin insurance. Poulin didn’t fare well on the faceoff dot in his first game this season, while Carter is one of the best.

Carter was 6-0 in faceoffs Thursday (Poulin was 3-0).

Also, Carter is a penalty killer, the net front on the second power-play unit, and generally a reliable player. Yes, Gruden is a little spark, but if you’re trying to win games, Carter offered just a little more. It was a tough call but not a terrible decision by Sullivan.

Don’t be surprised to see a little platoon with Carter, Gruden, and Jesse Puljujarvi trading healthy scratches.

Tristan Jarry is a similar matter. The goal is to win games now, and Jarry’s recent play was a case study of being worn down by bad play in front. He was playing well, keeping the Penguins in games they should not have been in, but a few leaky goals beget more soft defense.

When Dallas smoked the Penguins last weekend, Jarry seemed to react negatively to the goals. Sullivan pulled Jarry but declined to explain.

“There were several reasons, but I’m not going into it,” he said after the Dallas game.

Most importantly, Alex Nedeljkovic played well. He was stellar against Columbus and very good against the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday, stopping 38 of 39 shots. He’s 3-0-1 in his last four starts.

It’s about winning, or as Sullivan prefers to say, “putting the lineup on the ice that gives us the best chance at success.”

Hockey isn’t like baseball or even football. There’s no need to build for next year because the organization already knows the ceilings for the newbies. The reason to play the “kids” is because, in some cases, they’re better (Jack St. Ivany, Valtteri Puustinen), and they’ve added energy and enthusiasm to a hurting Penguins room.

It’s not about building for next year. Right now, it’s still about winning, even if there’s only a 2.9% chance.