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Yes, Penguins’ Remaining Games Still Matter … to Someone



Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry, Marcus Pettersson

NEW YORK — The Pittsburgh Penguins believe they still have something at stake in the final nine games of the regular season.

They contend it is a chance to climb back into the fight for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

Reality, in the form of mathematics, says it almost certainly is for their place in the NHL draft lottery.

But regardless of what’s at stake for the Penguins during the next two-plus weeks, virtually — if not literally — every team they will face the rest of the way will have genuine incentive to try hard to win.

Here’s why, heading into Monday night’s slate of eight games:

@ New York Rangers (tonight) — Tristan Jarry will be in goal against a club that scored seven in a victory against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena March 16, and is closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as well as a Metropolitan Division championship. New York is three points ahead of Carolina in the Metro and three up on Boston and the Hurricanes in the conference.

@ New Jersey Devils (Tuesday) — The Devils are in every bit as much of a can’t-lose situation as the Penguins, who they lead by one point in the Metro. New Jersey trails Washington and Philadelphia, which are tied for third in the division, by six points and has about as much chance of qualifying for postseason play as the Penguins do, but probably isn’t resigned to its fate just yet.

@ Washington (Thursday) — While there’s always a lot of attention generated when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin share a slab of ice, the Capitals will have much more on the line in this one. This was supposed to be something of a rebuilding year for them, but they’re sitting third in the Metro by virtue of having games-in-hand on the Flyers and a spot in the playoffs is theirs to lose.

Tampa Bay (Saturday) — Although the Lightning aren’t likely to make it back into third place in the Atlantic Division, they do have a seven-point grip on the first Eastern wild-card berth. Tampa Bay isn’t likely to relinquish that, and will be looking to build momentum to carry it on an extended playoff run.

@ Toronto (April 8) — The Maple Leafs are pretty much stranded in third place in the Atlantic, and seem certain to face Florida or Boston in Round 1 of the playoffs. Boston is a longtime nemesis for Toronto and the Panthers upset the Maple Leafs in the second round a year ago, riding a surge that carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

Detroit (April 11) — The Red Wings are just two points behind the Flyers in the battle for the second wild-card spot in the East, and have a game-in-hand. Although Detroit, which has gone through a major rebuild over the past few years, might be a bit ahead of schedule to challenge for a playoff berth, it is a legitimate threat to claim one.

Boston (April 13) — The Bruins are attempting to hold off Florida for first place in the Atlantic, although the thought of dropping into second and getting a Round 1 matchup with Toronto likely doesn’t terrify them. Even if Boston’s position in the standings is largely settled by this game, Bruins winger Brad Marchand usually seems to do some of his most productive work against the Penguins.

Nashville (April 15) — The Predators might be the most surprising team in the 2024 playoff field, but have a tight enough grip on the first wild-card berth in the Western Conference that nothing shy of a complete meltdown could force them to sit out the postseason. And overtaking Winnipeg for third place in the Central Division isn’t out of the question.

@New York Islanders (April 17) — This might prove to be a season-ending meeting of two teams that will miss the playoffs, but New York is only five points in back of Philadelphia and has a couple of games-in-hand. So you’re saying there’s a chance? Yeah, just not a terribly good one.