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Melrose: Slumping Penguins could miss playoffs

by Barry Melrose /

The last few years we've talked about the Pittsburgh Penguins and generally said they had to prove it to us in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The thing is, though, the "in the playoffs" part never seemed to be a question. Even as recently as two weeks ago the idea of the Penguins missing the postseason might have seemed ridiculous, but suddenly they've lost nine of their past 12 games and we now have to ask it.

With the Boston Bruins streaking and the Ottawa Senators playing very well despite their overtime loss Monday, Pittsburgh's tumble down the standings is suddenly making it seem very possible. The Penguins' loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday must have been an especially tough pill to swallow. Pittsburgh dominated the opening period and ended up outshooting Philadelphia 47-20 only to lose 4-1 to its hated in-state rival.

Losing a game like that can shatter you mentally. Suddenly the Penguins are going to start looking in the mirror wondering if this is just one of those cursed years. They've really started to struggle with inconsistency and injuries. They might start wondering if they need to rush injured players back because they need the points. Meanwhile, Boston and Ottawa are playing great and really putting the pressure on. The Penguins have no momentum and the Bruins and Senators have it all.

All of that will really reach a head Tuesday when the Penguins have to travel to Ottawa to play the Senators in a game that is a virtual four-pointer as far as the postseason race is concerned. If the Senators come away with two points and the Penguins come away with none, it could hasten one of the monumental collapses we've ever seen in this League. A while ago we were talking about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going 1-2 in scoring. Now we're wondering if this team will even be able to play beyond this Saturday.

But hey, if the Penguins don't make it, Canada and Russia will both have a heck of a team at the World Championships.

Considering the talent in the Penguins' locker room, and the fact that at points this season they looked like a threat to win the division, this would be one of the biggest collapses I can remember. The Penguins' saving grace might be that on the final day of the season they get to play the Buffalo Sabres. With the way Pittsburgh is playing though, by then it might be too late.


This week will see the final regular-season games ever played at Nassau Coliseum out on Long Island, and as someone who has been in the NHL as a player, coach and analyst for almost four decades, I know the building well. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Coliseum, obviously, is that back when I was playing, the New York Islanders were the best team in hockey, so when you came into that building you didn't leave with two points very often. The Islanders were tough, which you had to be in those days, they were good in net, which you have to be all the time, and they had great players like Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, arguably one of the greatest defensemen ever to play, and Mike Bossy, who scored 50 goals coming out of his mother's womb.

They had no weaknesses and you always knew at the end of the night you had virtually no chance of leaving with a win.

I also will remember that when I was with the Winnipeg Jets, our general manager was John Ferguson and he loved horse racing. Whenever we played the Islanders we would stay at the Roosevelt Hotel because it was right next to Roosevelt Park and Ferguson could go see the races.

Even at the time Nassau Coliseum was a small, quaint rink, but it was always rocking because the Islanders were so good. It was a tough building to play in and the fans there hardly ever saw any losses in the dynasty years. Eventually of course the Islanders organization fell on some hard times and had some bad luck with personnel moves, but I remember the glory years. I know how good the fans were in New York's heyday, and I will always remember how great it was to play in that building.

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