The Pittsburgh Penguins still have a chance to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
All things considered, not really a bad one, either.
But even if they get in — and they are now one point behind Florida, which holds the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference — there’s not much reason to think they’ll hang around for long.
Their 5-1 loss to New Jersey at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Tuesday night means that the Penguins did not win a single game against any of the three teams with whom they might be matched in a first-round series.
They went 0-7-4 against Boston, Carolina and the Devils, the latter of which swept the season series from the Penguins for the first time since 2009-10.
Florida’s 2-1 victory over Buffalo allowed the Panthers to pass the Penguins in the wild-card race and pull even with the New York Islanders for the first wild card.
The Penguins, Islanders and Panthers each have four games remaining.
The Penguins got the first power play of the game when Devils forward Miles Wood tripped Jeff Carter 6 1/2 minutes into the opening period, but managed to generate just one shot on Devils goalie Vitek Vanecek.
Just 28 seconds after Woods’ minor expired, New Jersey defenseman Dougie Hamilton drove a slap shot past Tristan Jarry from the top of the right circle to put the Devils in front to stay, 1-0.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Brian Dumoulin briefly after Devils forward Michael McLeod shoved him head-first into the boards from behind at 11:19. There was no penalty called and Dumoulin went to the locker room after being checked on the ice by athletic trainer Chris Stewart, but returned to the bench shortly thereafter.
Dawson Mercer made it 2-0 at 14:23 with the first of his three goals, as Nico Hischier set him up during a 2-on-1 break against P.O Joseph after Jeff Petry got caught up ice after what appeared to be an ill-advised pinch.
The Penguins got another chance with the man-advantage when Timo Meier was called for high-sticking at 14:48. They again failed to capitalize — leaving them 1-for-18 on the power play against New Jersey this season — although Rickard Rakell nearly beat Vanecek from point-blank range, only to have the puck cleared out of danger after it got within a few inches of the goal line.
The Penguins seemed to regroup during the intermission and showed some life early in the second period … until Jason Zucker took a hooking minor at 1:03.
He was still in the box when Jeff Petry sailed a puck over the glass at 2:36, giving New Jersey a two-man advantage.
The Devils needed 18 seconds of it to go up by three, as Meier set up at the left side of the crease and steered in a pass from Jack Hughes, who was at the top of the right circle.
Although there were numerous times when New Jersey seemed to have an extra man on the ice, the officials eventually noticed that Devils actually did at 4:41 of the second and penalized them for it, but the Penguins’ power play again produced nothing but frustration.
Any wisp of hope the Penguins had of coming back vanished with 34 seconds to go before the second intermission, when Mercer backhanded in a shot from the right side of the crease. Jarry had stopped a shot by former teammate John Marino and tried to push the puck to his glove, but it slid to Mercer before Jarry could get his glove down.
Mercer rubbed it in — and completed his hat trick — at 2:52 of the third, when he capped a 4-on-1 break by punching in a shot from the front lip of the crease.
Bryan Rust spoiled Vanecek’s shutout bid at 6:16, tipping in a P.O Joseph shot for his 20th of the season and fourth in the past three games. The second assist went to Petry.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to have a day off Wednesday and will face Minnesota Thursday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.