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The Penguins have a chance to make this interesting

They have two games this week that could significantly close the gap in the playoff race

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Penguins playoff odds did not change all that much with their 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Monday night, but they did take a small step forward and climb back up over 8 percent (according to MoneyPuck). Considering that they were down to around 1 percent a little more than a week ago, that is some progress.

The odds are still very much against them.

You would have good reason to think they would be better off having their NHL Draft Lottery odds improve over holding out some faint hope for a Wild Card spot and a first-round matchup against a likely Presidents’ Trophy winning team.

That is also not how a team led by Sidney Crosby is going to approach things, especially when he is on the run he is on right now over the past two weeks.

Even more than that, the Penguins have a couple of games this week that could — emphasis on could — help make the next couple of weeks a little more interesting than we might have previously imagined them to be.

I am not going to get too far ahead of myself here. I have no realistic expectations or delusions of them actually pulling this off and making the playoffs. I am not sitting here suggesting to you that they will or that you should be expecting it. I am just saying there is a path.

There are two things that give them a possible path.

The first is that everybody ahead of them has failed to do anything to secure one of the two playoff spots (third place in the Metropolitan Division and the second Eastern Conference Wild Card spot) that are still realistically there for the taking. Granted, they did not get much help there on Monday night with the Detroit Red Wings winning in regulation and the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers playing a three-point game, but the fact remains that nobody here is playing great right now.

The second is that the Penguins still have a lot of games remaining against those teams they are chasing.

That includes two games this week.

That includes Tuesday’s game in New Jersey.

Let’s start with that game. If the Penguins — and this is a huge, massive if — could find a way to do something they usually struggle to do even in good times for them — which is win a regulation game in New Jersey — they would put themselves three points clear of the Devils in the standings and put a significant dent in their already slim playoff chances.

That would set the stage for another potentially massive game on Thursday night in Washington against a Capitals team that, for all of its recent success in the standings, has been outscored by a whopping 31 goals this season.

You win THAT game in regulation, and all of a sudden you could find yourself potentially within three points of a playoff spot with six games to go.

The frustration here is that if the Penguins had simply held on to those multiple goal third period leads in Colorado and Columbus they would have two extra points in the standings right now, be only four points back, and have at least a 15 percent chance with their playoff odds. That does not even get into the Calgary, Vegas and Buffalo games from earlier in this season.

Or the overtime games.

But that is what happens when you have a bad to mediocre team. You can play the “what if” game countless times.

With games against New Jersey, Washington, Detroit and the New York Islanders all still on the horizon, they still have an opportunity to play themselves back into it. Shockingly.

Realistically though they can probably only afford to lose one of their remaining eight games, and that one can not come against any of the aforementioned four teams.

It is asking a lot. Maybe asking the impossible. But they have won three out of four games and collected at least a point in five consecutive games. They have somehow gained ground and slowly increased their chances. They have, at least for now, given a reason to still pay attention.

That could change even more dramatically with a couple of more wins this week. The game in New York against the Rangers was a step. Now they have to take another one. They at least have the chance. They at least have Sidney Crosby still doing everything he can to try to carry them.