The NHL’s postseason isn’t scheduled to begin until mid-April. However, the playoffs “unofficially” have already begun for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“We basically start our playoffs now,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “That’s the way it is. There are a lot of teams chasing only a few spots in sight right now. We have to first and foremost get ourselves in that picture and see where that takes us.”
“It has to start right now; we have to have that mentality,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “For us especially, sitting anywhere for the last couple weeks from seventh to 10th, we have to take advantage starting right now. We can’t wait 10 games and see what happens. We don’t have that type of flexibility. We have to start winning right now.”
With 34 games left in the season, Pittsburgh currently sits in the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference standings with a 23-21-4 record for 50 points. Four teams are battling for the final two playoff positions in the Eastern Conference. As of Tuesday afternoon, Buffalo (53 points) and Carolina (51) held those highly sought after positions. Florida (50) and Pittsburgh are on the outside looking in.
“We come back and we know where we stand,” Maxime Talbot said. “We know we have to play better. Every game we have to play with urgency. We need every point and we have to win some games to make it into the playoffs. After that anything can happen.”
We know we have to play better. Every game we have to play with urgency. We need every point and we have to win some games to make it into the playoffs. After that anything can happen. - Maxime Talbot
Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said that the team has to play “with a lot of desperation” in the stretch run.
“It’s going to be important games,” Therrien said. “In the position that we are, they are all big games. Our focus has got to be there. We’ll take it game-by-game and focus on the adjustments that we’ve made. We’ve been successful. You have to feel the pressure but in the meantime you don’t want the pressure to take away your game. That’s the playoffs. So make sure that our focus is at the right place. I still have confidence in that group.”
Something to consider moving forward is the amount of points it will take for the Penguins to earn a playoff berth. Since the NHL incorporated the shootout in the 2005-06 season, the lowest point total for a postseason berth in the East was 92.
The Tampa Bay Lightning (2005-06) and New York Islanders (2006-07) both claimed the eighth seed with 92 points. Last year, the Boston Bruins locked up the final postseason position with 94 points.
Although the points needed isn’t set in stone, it’s logical to suggest that the Penguins have to get somewhere around the 94-point range to make the tournament. With 50 points already, the Penguins need to accumulate roughly 44 points in the final 34 games of the season.
Last season, the Penguins went 20-10-4 for 44 points in their final 34 games en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Ironically, if Pittsburgh can put up the same record that will put them at the 94-point plateau.
“You look at last year, the second half of the season was our best,” Talbot said. “We need to play that type of hockey.”
A lot of those (players) were in the Stanley Cup Final and they want to be back in the playoffs and we’re going to give everything we’ve got, that’s for sure. - Michel Therrien
“We all understand the purpose of every game,” Therrien said. “A lot of those (players) were in the Stanley Cup Final and they want to be back in the playoffs and we’re going to give everything we’ve got, that’s for sure.”
Pittsburgh understands that the key to successful second-half run will be how well the team executes its system defensively.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Therrien said. “The first thing is we have to play better defensively as a team. If we keep focusing (on) the way that we try to play, we’ll get success.”
“Playing well defensively will give us a chance to win every game even if our offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders,” Scuderi said. “If you play good defense, you always have a chance. It’s something we’re going to have to work on. We need the points. These last 34 games we have to give ourselves a chance to win every night because we need the points.”
Pittsburgh’s defense helped the team end a rough losing skid and get back into the postseason picture. The Penguins enacted a neutral zone trap and had success heading into the All-Star break.
“We had a slide there but I think that we found a recipe that makes us successful,” forward Matt Cooke
said. “The biggest thing that we can do is work on our consistency and make sure that we play the right way.”
“We need consistency and a little bit of a run,” Crosby said. “There are so many teams and only some of them can string a bunch of wins together. Teams are going to do it. Hopefully, it’s us who are going to do it and some of the teams we are chasing don’t. All we can do is control what we do. We have to make sure we’re consistent and we can’t be chasing. We have to make sure that we get in there and solidify ourselves.”
So the Penguins’ postseason conquest starts Wednesday against the New York Rangers. From now until the end of the regular season, Pittsburgh is fighting for its postseason life. The Penguins captain is confident his team can make the playoffs.
“I think we can,” Crosby said. “We’ve been through a lot this year. We had a great run last year and learned a lot about each other. A lot of those guys are back. We know what it takes and it’s going to have to start now.”