You have to go all the way back to the 2014-15 season and Mike Johnston’s first year on the job to find the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing a week like this.
A week where their playoff streak was seriously on the line.
Only this time, it seems worse.
Not only do the Penguins need to win their two games this week — against the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets — to extend their playoff streak to a 17th consecutive season, they need to get some help.
What does that help look like?
Well, along with their own two wins, the Penguins need either the New York Islanders or Florida Panthers to either lose ONE game in regulation, or lose both of their remaining games in overtime or a shootout. Basically, they need one of those two teams to get two points or less.
That is going to be where most of the nail-biting comes in for Penguins fans,
The Islanders’ two remaining games are at Washington and home against Montreal. That is not really helpful to the Penguins’ cause. Both of those teams are out of the playoffs with absolutely nothing to play for. Washington already lost at home to Florida this week with Alex Ovechkin not playing in that game. Montreal is not only bad, but also significantly injured.
You might not get much help there.
Florida plays the significantly tougher schedule (and the toughest schedule of the three teams) with games against Toronto and Carolina.
That looks like, on paper, a scenario where the Penguins might be able to get some help.
But Toronto has literally nothing to play for with its matchup and home-ice advantage already secured, while there is a possibility that Carolina could also have things wrapped up by the time that game rolls around. The Hurricanes still needing a win to clinch the Metropolitan Division will certainly help the Penguins.
If Florida wins those two games it means they will have ended the regular season on an eight-game winning streak which, honestly, I did not think was possible. Especially given their defense and goaltending situation.
Even if the Penguins get that help, they still need to win their games.
That might actually prove to be the biggest issue because no matter how easy this schedule looks, the Penguins have been dropping games like this all season.
They only won one out of six games against Detroit and Montreal.
They lost to San Jose and Ottawa at home.
They have blown leads all season.
Nothing should be taken for granted.
On Tuesday the Penguins host a Blackhawks team that is in full-blown tank mode and is basically putting a roster of Jonathan Toews surrounded by an AHL team on the ice. They have lost 10 out of 11 games coming into the week and when they play in Pittsburgh on Tuesday will be playing the second half of a back-to-back, with travel.
That should be as guaranteed two points as you will ever find in the NHL.
We have said that before, though.
Assuming they can take care of business on Tuesday, the close the regular season on Thursday against another of the league’s bottom teams, by visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Columbus has not won a game in regulation since February 28 and is 4-12-2 in the 18 games since then, winning only four overtime games during that stretch against San Jose, Washington, the New York Islanders, and Ottawa. Columbus is a roster that has been crushed by injuries all season, along with bad goaltending and just a lack of overall talent. The Penguins have won the first three games of this season series by a combined score of 15-8, but they did need to overcome a 4-0 deficit in one of those games at home to win it. They also had to overcome a pair of two-goal deficits in one of the other games. You do not want to have to do that again.
That is the situation. That is what is at stake.
There are multiple scenarios still at play, ranging from the Penguins still being the No. 1 Wild Card spot and playing anybody from Carolina, to New Jersey, to the New York Rangers (that is still potentially on the table), to getting the No. 2 Wild Card spot and playing the Boston Bruins, to missing the playoffs entirely and seeing their consecutive playoff appearances streak end at 16 consecutive seasons. It is a stunning situation for them to be in. It is not a situation I expected at any point of the season until about a week ago. That is what happens when you have a flawed, poorly constructed roster that loses a lot of games it should have won along the way earlier in the season. Just one of those games going differently would have completely changed the entire situation.