Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access" The Pittsburgh Penguins with a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night, officially clinched a playoff berth for the 12th straight season.
The last several years whenever the Penguins clinch a playoff spot, it has rarely been seen as a major celebration during the Sidney Crosby era because it’s just always assumed the Penguins get in and expectations since about year three of the Crosby era has been Stanley Cup or bust.
However, in looking at other situations around the league, maybe there should be more appreciation for what the Penguins have done in the Cap era in now going to 12 straight postseasons.
Mike Sullivan for one saw clinching a playoff berth last night as special, especially with how this group looked in early January when the Penguins were 20-19-3 at one point.
“It’s special because I think it’s hard to make the playoffs in this league,” said Sullivan. “There’s a lot of good teams. Look across the league and see how tight the races are and how many teams are still in it. So the factor that we’re able to clinch it and solidify a playoff spot is a credit to our players.”
The Penguins starting in Mid-April will look to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the 80’s
First place hasn’t mattered to the Penguins getting through the Eastern Conference the last two post-seasons but things did play out during the 2016 postseason and 2017 postseason where Penguins held home-ice in three of the four rounds.
How good this team is at home, that can’t be downplayed.
This year the best case scenario is likely two rounds of home-ice and even then a lot of things would have to break the Penguins way.
Tonight could potentially tell the story.
After entering Thursday morning seven points out of first place, Pittsburgh could make a six point swing on the Capitals (99pts) in a matter of four days with a regulation win tonight, while the Capitals will clinch the Metropolitan Division with a regulation win.
So the Penguins in a sense the Penguins are fighting for their first place lives tonight which will see Matt Murray starting in a back-to-back, but the pressure is on the Capitals once again which is always the case when these teams get together.
— The Appreciation of the Penguins making the playoffs 12 straight seasons becomes even more strengthened when you look right now at the Chicago Blackhawks and a few other situations.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted that the Penguins have avoided a season like Chicago is currently having with three so called Top-100 players of All-Time still in their prime.
The closest Pittsburgh came to missing the playoffs was the 2014-2015 season where the Penguins needed a win over the tanking Buffalo Sabres on the final day of regulation to get in. That season had turmoil down the stretch with terrible management in not being able to manage the cap, a lack of identity in how they wanted to play, one month it was ‘let’s be a four line team, next month ‘let’s add a bunch of grinders’ and the team obviously had a coach in place who wanted the Penguins to try to win every night 2-1 that held back the high-end talent.
Still, the Penguins got in and played the President Trophy winning Rangers close in every game during Round 1 where the Penguins were in position to stretch the series past five games or even upset the Rangers.
Another situation that stands out is Edmonton with a once in a generation player in Connor McDavid. After the Penguins made the playoffs during Sidney Crosby’s second season (2006/2007), it’s been automatic since.
In McDavid’s second season the Oilers made the playoffs in what should have started a stretch for the Oilers like in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby where you don’t miss the playoffs again for a long-time and certainly not to this extent that Edmonton is.
When you have a core of McDavid – Draisaitl – Nugent-Hopkins that is similar to Crosby-Malkin-Staal, there’s no excuse for Edmonton to be in the situation they are this season in year 3 of the McDavid Era that shows how well Ray Shero did in putting complementary pieces around the club during the early Crosby years where Pittsburgh took advantage of having their core on rookie contracts.
Edmonton’s management group by contrast has failed badly in maximizing the three years McDavid is on his rookie contract. Nothing is worse than trading away a star talent like Taylor Hall for a No. 5 caliber defenseman just because you need defensemen and not adjusting to today’s speed game by throwing huge money at Milan Lucic who’s best days are behind him will set you back like Edmonton is finding out.
Making the playoffs has become so automatic it’s rarely seen as a celebration in Pittsburgh but the appreciation of getting in 12 straight years is starting to grow. Just look around the league……
— Riley Sheahan had a goal, assist in the Penguins 5-2 win over the Canadiens. He had a nice game in the third line center role with and being a smart forechecker, he fits well with Patric Hornqvist in stretches.
However, let’s not get carried away with this talk emerging that coaches might have a decision to make when Derick Brassard gets back. They don’t any decision to make, no matter how well Sheahan plays between now and Brassard coming back.
It was the Canadiens after the all and Sheahan/Hornqvist were still at 34% in possession when on the ice together.
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