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Final 36

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The Penguins have 4 regulation wins against teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs. In the final 36 games, they'll get seven more chances to add to their win total.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

If the playoffs started today.... ok, I hate that too but stay with me here.

If the playoffs started today, Pittsburgh Penguins would have a first round date against the New York Rangers.

The way this season has gone, it really doesn't matter who the Penguins play because they haven't really distinguished themselves against the other seven Eastern Conference playoff teams.

The Penguins have four regulation wins in 18 games against the Lightning, Bruins, Red Wings, Canadiens, Islanders, Capitals and Rangers.

Three of those four wins came at home.

Penguins have played 46 games so far this season but only have 18 points in 18 games against those playoffs teams.

They've played 26 games at home averaging 3.08 goals for and 2.42 goals against per game. The 20 games on the road, they average 2.90 goals for and 2.70 goals against per game.

The team has 36 games left to play with 15 at home, 21 on the road, 17 against Western Conference, and 7 of the 19 against the Eastern Conference are playoff teams.

There should be no doubt for the Penguins qualification to make the playoffs but their record on the road will be tested for the remainder of the season and because of their road record, finishing in the top two of their division to get the home ice advantage in the first round could be important.

Other than placing in the top two of their division, Head Coach Mike Johnston will need to prepare his team to be battle tested when it counts because as we've seen in the last five playoff runs, this team hasn't done what it takes to be ready for competition.

As we get closer to April, more and more attention, which comes pressure, will be placed on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury to lead this franchise to the Stanley Cup again. If the team flames out again like they did against the Rangers, Bruins, and Flyers, all bets could be off on Crosby and Malkin as a duo in Pittsburgh.

Because the players that have been around for those failures know what is at stake and Jim Rutherford doesn't want to be the guy that had to break up the franchise's best duo since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, another move could be made by the deadline to give this group their best chance.

This is why we're unlikely to see Paul Martin traded and why a young defenseman could be moved for a winger because of the declining production of Chris Kunitz (1.7 pts/60 at even-strength).

Injuries have taken their toll having lost Olli Maatta to a second shoulder surgery in less than a year, Crosby and Malkin are now battling injuries of their own, and Pascal Dupuis is expected to miss the season because of his second bout with blood clots.

Not all is lost as Blake Comeau (wrist) and Patric Hornqvist (foot) should be back in two weeks.

While the team plays their final 36, remember the past, it doesn't matter. What does is making the playoffs and ignoring the hype machine.

Mike Johnston, welcome to the pressure cooker.