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Molinari: Time for Penguins to Go All-In on Jarry



Pittsburgh Penguins, Tristan Jarry

Mike Sullivan stuck with his usual routine this weekend, splitting the goaltending workload when the Pittsburgh Penguins play on consecutive days.

Sunday, that meant starting Casey DeSmith against Philadelphia, and DeSmith’s performance against the Flyers — he stopped 31 of 33 shots and played a prominent role in the Penguins’ 4-2 victory — makes it hard to second-guess Sullivan’s decision.

Well, it would be difficult most of the time, anyway.

But this isn’t most of the time, and the situation in which the Penguins find themselves is anything but routine.

They are trying to slip into the Stanley Cup playoffs and, ideally, stay there for more than a few days.

At the moment, they’re hardly guaranteed to qualify, and if they do get in, will be matched against Boston, Carolina or New Jersey — against whom the Penguins are a combined 0-6-4 in 2022-23 — in the opening round.

Sure, based on how things stand at this point, they would have a chance to advance to the second round.

Maybe even a slightly better one than a groundhog has to get the best of a run-in with a speeding 18-wheeler.

But not much.

If the Penguins are to survive a best-of-seven against the Bruins, Hurricanes or Devils, they will have to have a lot of factors break their way.

The most important of those is goaltending, because it’s particularly true in the playoffs that if a team doesn’t have quality goaltending, it really doesn’t matter what the 18 forwards and defensemen do.

And Tristan Jarry is the only goaltender on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ depth chart who can elevate his game to the level that would be needed to upset a clearly superior opponent.

That’s not a criticism of DeSmith; he proved again Sunday that he’s a perfectly solid backup, a guy who — despite inconsistency this season — is capable of lifting his team at times.

But it’s not realistic to expect him to steal a series.

Whether Jarry can do that remains to be seen — his NHL playoff record is 2-6, with a 3.00 goals-against average and a meager save percentage of .891, and his late-series meltdown against the New York Islanders two years ago remains the most memorable entry on his postseason resume — but he does have a skills set that makes it at least a possibility.

And that is why Jarry should have started against the Flyers.

And why he should start every game the rest of the way, at least until the Penguins have either clinched a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference — if possible, the first one — or been consigned to the coterie of teams that will sit out the playoffs.

Jarry has missed two extended stretches because of injuries since the start of 2023 — he sat out seven games between Jan. 5 and nine more between Jan. 23 and Feb. 17 — and the Penguins will not play on consecutive days again this season or travel farther than Newark. N.J. during their remaining five games.

Consequently, barring some extraordinary development, fatigue should not be an issue, so Jarry could use the steady workload to get his game as sharp as possible for the start of the playoffs.

The potential downside to leaning on Jarry is small: If he would sputter down the stretch and cause the Penguins to not qualify, that would simply lead to their season ending a few days earlier than it would if they entered the playoffs with average goaltending.

Jarry certainly should not lack personal motivation — he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and a strong performance in the playoffs could literally pay off in a big way — and the Pittsburgh Penguins have to recognize that whatever hope they have of stealing a series (or more) hinges on having elite-level goaltending.

The kind they can only hope to get from Tristan Jarry.