For weeks now, and usually after a loss in the locker-room after games many players on the Penguins have been saying something along the lines of, “we’re going to find out what we’re made of now” as the stretch approaches.
Unfortunately for them, the slow reveal has been one to show a team that just doesn’t measure up. After a 5-1 loss where the Pens didn’t look like they belonged on the same ice with a real playoff team in the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh has fallen below the playoff line with just four games to go.
Oh, there was some movement in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race last night. A tightly-contested win vs. the Sabres, along with a Penguins regulation loss, propelled @FlaPanthers into the first Wild Card position.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 5, 2023
Who ya got to lock down the two remaining spots in the East? pic.twitter.com/OF0NPn09qN
One point might not seem like a lot - but remembering that both Florida and the Islanders hold the primary tiebreaker (regulation wins) over Pittsburgh. It’s just one brick in the wall that’s building up to break the Pens’ long playoff streak.
With only a few games left, every game is huge. Last night’s game against New Jersey was likely Pittsburgh’s last best chance to keep control of their own destiny. Now, they will need one of Florida or New York to stumble.
Here’s a cool visual to display the outlook graphically, in graphic form.
Should Pittsburgh acquire all of the possible eight points remaining in the season, they are most likely (98% according to this modeling) going to make the playoffs. Any less than that and chances reduce drastically.
Even going 2-1-1 and getting five points likely will not cut it (38%), but going 3-1-0 in the last four gives a pretty decent boost (72%).
In the end, even if Pittsburgh makes it - their reward will be a majorly uphill battle against a division winner (if not the President’s Trophy winner in Boston). With the Pens’ record against the top teams not exactly measuring up, that might not matter.
However, at this point even getting to the playoffs is going to be stressful and uncertain at best and growing increasingly likely to have this season already undergoing an unfortunate ending.
Either way, though the term “must win” is thrown around far too much in situations that are not truly “must win”, the Pittsburgh Penguins have to approach tomorrow night’s game against Minnesota as a must win. Unfortunately for them, they supposedly had a similar mindset against New Jersey and weren’t close to being good enough.
That can be the problem of “finding out what you’re made of”, when since the beginning of the season it’s been obvious what the Pens are made of is a woefully insufficient supporting cast around a handful of very good players. Add in some injuries, inconsistent goaltending and dreadful special teams, and it’s all added up to put Pittsburgh behind the eight ball and under-perform in one of the golden years of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It’s a shame, it’s not fun, but one way or the other, at least it should be over soon enough.