The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't play last night, but their playoff hopes got a huge and tangible boost. There were three games of extreme interest to the Pens cause and two of them didn't go their way, but one did, and that might make all the difference when the dust settles.
First, the bad news: with 4 teams (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, Ottawa) fighting for 3 playoff spots, the Detroit Red Wings clinched their 24th straight trip to the playoffs by grabbing a point with an overtime loss to Montreal. Then, those scrappy Senators kept up with their winning ways by shutting out a New York Rangers team that decided to rest Rick Nash and Marc Staal and call up 2 minor leaguers. That didn't help Pittsburgh.
Now, the good news: old friend Jaromir Jagr and the Florida Panthers sure did help the Pens out. Jagr, with 2 assists on the night, passed former Penguin teammate Ron Francis for 4th place all-time in NHL scoring and hit the 1,800 career point plateau. More importantly right now, those assists helped the Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-2. This is huge for the Penguins.
Here's a look at the current standings this morning:
Not pictured: Philadelphia Flyers
At least when it comes to making the playoffs, the Pens are in great shape, even though they haven't won a game all month. Never take for granted those early games in the season, eh?
By virtue of the Bruins losing their last two games, Pittsburgh is in the driver's seat to advance to the post-season. Especially considering the Pens final game on Saturday is @Buffalo, a team with a -109 goal differential that is actively trying to lose games this season.
The most Boston can finish with is 97 points. HOWEVA, if Pittsburgh and Boston tie in the first tie-breaker (Regulation + OT Wins), the Bruins will have the edge, by virtue of taking more points in the season series against the Pens. The Bruins took 5 points, the Pens, 3. The Pens, sitting at 96 points plus 2 games, are in great position here, because they really shouldn't be tied with the Bruins after 82 games.
When it comes to Ottawa, Pittsburgh would win a tiebreak- should it come to that- by virtue of the Pens having more ROW on the season. Ottawa finishes with the Flyers on Saturday afternoon, so the Pens will know by the time they play what the possibilities are. It's difficult to say right now if the Pens will end up with 97, 98 or 99 points (the Sens possibilities), but if so, PIttsburgh would get the edge.
Before we come to that, though, the Pens focus turns to tonight's opponent, the New York Islanders. The Isles, thanks to Boston losing, clinched their spot in the playoffs last night. Unfortunately for the Pens, the Isles have the tiebreaking advantages at the moment- with more ROW, and even if the Pens win tonight, the Isles have already clinched the season series (and 2nd tiebreaker).
Unless the Pens win tonight+tomorrow and NYI loses their last game Saturday at home against Columbus, Pittsburgh is probably a wild-card team. Which might really be for the better, since the Pens probably matchup with Montreal better while they're injury depleted rather than playing the Washington Capitals, like the Islanders probably will in the 2/3 matchup.
Long story short: Boston losing last night was a huge blessing for the Penguins. So long as the Pens can grab 2 more points in the standings, which could come tonight with a win in any fashion, they're guaranteed to go to their 9th straight postseason. Even if they don't win tonight, they have a golden chance to beat Buffalo tomorrow, or could possibly even totally back into the playoffs if the Bruins lose Saturday in Tampa Bay. The Lightning are still playing for the division championship and have plenty of motivation to win that game.
Without Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff the Pens might not be in great shape when the playoffs start next week, but they almost certainly will be able to compete and try to overcome the adversity when the tournament starts.