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NHL Playoffs: 3 is the Pittsburgh Penguins magic number

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The Pittsburgh Penguins need to find a way to get 3 points in their last 2 games to guarantee a playoff berth.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

3

It's the most crucial number right now for the Pittsburgh Penguins playoff push. They need any combination of winning 3 points in their last two games, combined with Ottawa losing out on 3. As strange as it sounds with the world crumbling, the Pens still sit in their own driver's seat. They win both of their last two games, they make the playoffs. Of course, that figures to be easier said than done for a wounded team limping down the stretch with 4 straight losses and a grouping of defensemen that are banged up, worn out or in over their heads.

How quickly the Pens can reset will also be seen. After last night's brutal loss, the team was obviously dejected. They knew the opportunity to clinch a playoff berth last night slipped away in the last 2 minutes of the game- but really longer than that considering the way they struggled through the second half of the game.

The Pens end the (regular) season on Saturday night in Buffalo. Against by far the NHL's lowest talent team on the ice, that just has to be a 2 point win for Pittsburgh at this point. No way around it, unless Ottawa doesn't win another game -and we all know that's no likely- the Pens just have to have that one in Buffalo.

Which brings us down to 1 point. The Pens could do it themselves by beating (or at least going to OT) against the New York Islanders. The Pens are 1-2-1 vs NYI so far this season, which isn't great, but Pittsburgh's divisional record isn't great against anyone. The Isles, like the Pens, have also been limping down the stretch, going only 3-7-2 in their last 12 with two of those wins being over lowly NJD and Buffalo. They haven't clinched a playoff spot either, though are 2 points ahead of Pittsburgh and in a comfortable position.

Pittsburgh played basically a playoff game last night, and next game will basically be one as well. If they lose in regulation, there won't be a lot of hope for the team, because they will need help in the form of Ottawa (or Boston) losing. And that help might not be coming.

Ottawa plays @NYR tomorrow night and @Philly on Saturday. The Rangers have locked up the Presidents Trophy, and are locked into #1 in the East. Now, no team wants to lay down and have a bad effort going into the playoffs, but if ever there might be a "let up" game, you would think for the Rangers this would be a strong candidate. Then, on Saturday, the Sens face Philly. Could the Flyers play a part in determining the Penguins fate on the last game of the season? Possibly, but if it comes to that, it means the Pens are still losing and haven't earned a spot on their own.

Ironically, given some progress for Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang, the Penguins might even get help for their team if only they can make it to the playoffs. Ehrhoff is the closer of the two and could even factor into regular season, though I would caution extreme tempering of expectations for a player who's been concussed on and off since the end of January. Unlike a bad leg that Evgeni Malkin through is admirably trying to play through and help, Ehrhoff can't take the same chances given the nature of his injury.

With 2 games left in the regular season, the Penguins have to find a way to get over the finish line in a game if they want to keep playing. Ideally they could get some help from Ottawa stumbling, but it would be foolish to bank on that. Pittsburgh, despite 4 straight losses and discontent everywhere, can still do it themselves. Just as sometimes a kid sinks a little before they swim, the Pens need to start making progress now before they run out of time, because there won't necessarily be a lifeguard there to save their season.