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Time to start looking at 2018 first round playoff possibilities

The Pittsburgh Penguins are chugging toward the playoffs - again. A look at the current and ever-shifting possibilities of whoms they may see in the first round.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Penguins have endured a couple back-to-backs and even escaped the last set with three of a possible four points. Not bad, especially considering starting goalie Matt Murray has been on the shelf for a few weeks but the team continues to plug along successfully.

With a four game break between days, naturally the attention turns to the standings and how everything is shaking out.

All reasonable metrics have Pittsburgh at 98-100% chance of the playoffs at this point. While some will never want to say it until it’s signed, sealed, delivered, it’s OK at this point to admit the eventuality that the Pens are headed to the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now the question becomes which team will they see in the first round? The most likely scenarios under the current format is that the Pens will play the #1 wildcard team if they win the Metropolitan Division, if not they will play the #3 seed of the Metro division.

As of now, SportsClubStats has the following odds with thousands of scenarios considered:

  • Philadelphia: 27.0%
  • Columbus: 26.0%
  • New Jersey 21.8%
  • Florida: 19.2%
  • Washington: 4.2%

There’s always a chance that if something drastically changes (i.e. an unforseen 10 game winning or losing streak from the Pens or one of the above teams) that the picture could be changed. But, more than likely Pittsburgh will see one of those first four teams.

All have some positives and negatives.

Philadelphia seems streaky, and really a beneficiary of overtime hockey. They’ve only won 33 out of 71 games so far in regulation/OT. As usual their goaltending situation is an absolute mess. If their name wasn’t the “Flyers” I would think this would be the team that Pittsburgh fans want to see the most, because while they do have some talented players, they do not really look like a team ready to knock off the 2-time, 2-time, 2-time defending Cup champions.

The Blue Jackets have long been the Pens little brother and every time they face Sergei Bobrovsky he turns into a non-NHL caliber goalie for whatever reason. Columbus seems much weaker a team this season than they were last season, and last spring the Pens dispatched Columbus with relative ease in five games. At this point there isn’t much evidence to suggest anything else is all that likely.

The Devils would be a very interesting opponent. They have speed and a 2-0 record so far this year against the Pens. Style-wise they seem to matchup well. They also probably have the most fearful goaltending situation of the potential first round matchups if Cory Schneider is back in form. Then again, they’re not as deep or experienced as Pittsburgh and don’t really seem to be on the verge of a sustainable playoff run this season in their rebuild.

Florida might be the team right now that no higher seed wants to face. The Pens would only see the Panthers if Pittsburgh wins the Metro and Florida is the second lowest playoff team. The Panthers are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and seem to be the classic late-charging team that is in good form but needs to makeup ground. And it’s no guarantee they will be able to make the playoffs they still have a bit of a hole to climb out. Further, they could easily be the WC#2 as the lowest playoff team, at which point they would face the Atlantic champion.

The first round matchup with the Capitals and Pens is only happening in the #2/3 area and would require Philly (now six points back) to jump both Washington and Pittsburgh. The odds of this realistically happening are lower than 4%, in our opinion. If there’s to be another Caps/Pens series it will likely be in Round 2 for the third season in a row.

As we all know in the NHL playoffs, the team that “should” win, doesn’t necessarily always actually win, so this isn’t to take anything for-granted. However, as of now the playoff picture is developing favorably to the Pens who will likely, as of today anyways, matchup against a team that doesn’t seem quite ready to advance far in the playoffs (PHI, NJ, FLA), one they have fared very well against this season (PHI, CBJ) or one with a weak/uncertain goalie situation (PHI, CBJ). The picture could shift, but as of now the Pens find themselves in a very good position in the standings.

Also, via wiki look at this:

You might notice the #2 and #3 teams on the list (Chicago and New York) are about to see their current streaks end. The #4 team (St. Louis) is currently four points out of a playoff spot and falling quickly and the #5 team (Anaheim) is in a dog fight one point out. It’s very likely/possible that the Pens going-on 12 year active playoff streak will be TWICE as long as the next closest team.

When folks talk about enjoying the good times of this Crosby/Malkin era, stuff like this is what is meant. Pittsburgh may or may not be able to win a 3rd straight Stanley Cup but their remarkable consistency continues to make them the finest team in the salary cap era in many regards.