There remains only a two-pack of creampuffs on the Pittsburgh Penguins schedule. The Penguins’ last lap of the 2020-21 NHL regular season goes through Philadelphia before hitting the finish line with a pair of home games against the Buffalo Sabres.
At the risk of hurting our own business for the next two weeks, the games are essentially meaningless. Sure, the Penguins would have a much better chance of advancing to Round Two if they draw the New York Islanders instead of the Boston Bruins. However, unless you know which team will finish fourth, the chances of facing Boston in Round One are equal if the Penguins finish first or second.
The Penguins won six of eight against the Islanders and Capitals this season, but only three of eight against Boston.
Washington and New York have five games remaining. Boston has six. Predicting the final standings is a crapshoot, or Capshoot, if you will. (I’ll show myself out).
So, the Penguins will control their destiny regarding their finish, but little else. Given a pair of games against the Philadelphia Flyers, who already have the U-Hauls lined up on Broad Street, and the Buffalo Sabres, who aren’t very good, the Penguins should win at least two, if not three of their final four.
But what if they don’t?
What if the Penguins exhale after a pair of shutout wins over the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, respectively? What if the Penguins do more than stub their toe in the final four games?
For comparison, we’ll look at the last few Stanley Cup winners, including the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins. We won’t count the 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning because there were five months between the end of the season and the playoffs. The playoffs bore little resemblance to the end of the regular season.
The 2019 St. Louis Blues were 1-4-1 over their final six games in the final two weekends of the season. Despite coasting into the playoffs, little Laila still got to kiss the Stanley Cup.
The 2018 Washington Capitals were 3-2-0 in their final two weekends before getting past the Penguins in Round Two and eventually beating the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.
The 2017 Penguins team was 3-2.
The final week of the season, and a lack of wins, have shown no effect on Stanley Cup winners. So, if the Penguins win all four or lose a few in the next five days, history shows it will have little impact on their Stanley Cup chances.
Since the 2021 Penguins are already 2-0 in their final six, the team has already achieved the minimum requirements before the playoffs.
Side note: Why hasn’t the NHL canceled the straggling Vancouver Canucks games so we can get the show on the road. The last games which could involve playoff teams are May 14, yet the regular season will extend to May 18.
The final Pittsburgh Penguins game is May 8, which means they could have an 11 day or more break between the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs. If there is a worry, it’s that two-week break after a regular season. The first round of the playoffs could be as much about getting the pianos off everyones’ backs and re-finding a rhythm as it is a contest between teams.
The Penguins do have some unfinished business before the playoffs begin in nearly three weeks. Evgeni Malkin has missed more than six weeks. He will need some game action to find his touch and get his legs back—the same with Brandon Tanev, who has missed most of the last two months as well.
But, refer back to the 11-day gap. If Malkin or Tanev returns before the end of the regular season, they will again have a two-week break.
The Penguins’ opponents will also have an extended break, so it won’t be a one-sided disadvantage, but it further invalidates the importance of the Penguins’ next four games.
Win or lose, the playoffs and history don’t care.