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Kingerski: Enough with Penguins Gloom; Admit it, You Want the Playoffs



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin

If I had a nickel for every comment on Pittsburgh Hockey Now and Twitter reply expressing the hope that the Pittsburgh Penguins missed the playoffs, I could retire a very happy man. The Chicken Littles ran amok and gathered steam as the Penguins bubbled above and below the playoff line.

Yes, Jeff Carter is old and has not had a good season.

Yes, Evgeni Malkin makes turnovers.

Yes, Kris Letang occasionally makes a head-scratching mistake.

Yes, Mike Sullivan forces young players to earn their way into the lineup without the benefit of a Willie Wonka golden ticket.


The “and’ is the Pittsburgh Penguins are again poised to make the NHL playoffs. For 16 straight seasons, the team has made the big dance and, for most of those years, had at least one, if not both, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lead the charge.

The Penguins and their Hall of Fame core are close to confirming reservations for year No. 17.

Sure, GM Ron Hextall’s remodeling project has not gone so well. Despite the addition of Rickard Rakell at the 2022 NHL trade deadline, his other moves and signings (See also: Jeff Carter, Kasperi Kapanen, Brock McGinn) essentially flatlined and soaked up considerable salary-cap resources.

Sure, Hextall deserves scrutiny for acquiring Mikael Granlund, who has three points in 12 games since being added. Granlund has not yet found a steady spot in the Penguins’ lineup, but will have two more years to figure it out at a cap cost of $5 million per season.

And sure, the Penguins had the temerity to lose in the first round (or wild-card round) for four straight years. For that insult to fans, the paying public girded itself with extra layers of emotional protection in case the Penguins’ run came crashing down this season.

I get it. It’s better to be negative than to be vulnerable. It’s better to predict failure and be wrong than hope for success and be crushed.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Austin Matthews is in Season 7. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas is in Season 5. But by Penguins fans’ logic, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have not left the orbit of Round One since 2004, should have no fans left.

It’s probably time to enjoy things, even the little things. No, the Penguins are not legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They have lineup holes, goalies who can’t stay healthy, and this maddening mental block to holding any lead, large or small.

But admit it, now that the money is on the table, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are charging toward a playoff spot, you’re enjoying it.

Admit it — this is fun.

This time of year is why we suffer through late games in Winnipeg and even later games in Anaheim. We toil through the uninteresting matchups in November and January. Even though they mean two points, they’re detached from any rivalry or emotion.

You must get through 82 games to get to the center of the Tootsie roll Tootsie pop. For the first time this season, there is light at the end of this long, long, looonngg tunnel.

The Penguins control their fate with nine games to go. Sidney Crosby will likely have another chance to provide a playoff memory you’ll discuss for another generation. With some goaltending, the Penguins could even pull an upset over the Carolina Hurricanes. Heck, they’ve even outplayed the Boston Bruins in both meetings this year.

A quick ending might be a probability, but isn’t that why we watch? We watch for that Crosby sweep through Samuel Girard’s skates and 64 mph backhand goal. We watch for Evgeni Malkin to take a terrible third period penalty, then erase it all with a bold steal and dramatic breakaway goal to win the game.

We watch for the unexpected, including a wild-card team bouncing a division winner.

The Penguins’ crowd at PPG Paints Arena Saturday was the best of the season. The noise level and engagement were thunderous.

After the season, there will be plenty of time for us to dive deep into what can or should come next; who should keep their job, who should be traded, acquired, or paid.

Right now, it’s that time of year. The playoffs are close, and the Penguins will probably qualify again.

And you can admit it. You love it.