The Penguins completed the franchise’s most dramatic turnaround in team history with their 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night to clinch a postseason berth.
Pittsburgh was in the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference standings at the start of March and climbed up to the sixth position while ensuring playoff action. Even when the postseason looked unimaginable, the team remained confident.
“When you’re in 10th place you have to find ways to get success,” Sidney Crosby
said. “We had to prove it and earn our way back. We’ve seen some good results. We expected to be in the playoffs. It was tough but it was great that we turned things around. We’re happy we’re there and we have something to prove.”
“It’s been an impressive last couple of months and all the guys in this dressing room are proud of what we accomplished,” Jordan Staal
said. “It’s difficult every year to make the playoffs. We’re proud to be in it and hopefully we can make a nice run.”
But the playoffs do not start until next week. There are still two remaining regular-season games (vs. NY Islanders; at Montreal) to handle. There is still some unfinished business to be taken care of before the postseason.
“We’re happy about solidifying our place in the postseason but we’ve got two games left in the regular season that we want to use to get ready,” Bill Guerin said. “We still want to try and get the best playoff position possible and focus on what’s ahead of us.”
“I’m planning to win the next two games; that’s the goal,” interim head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Now our challenge is to refocus. We ran a sprint for the last month and a half. Now we have to refocus and get ready for the playoffs. The last two games are important in terms of how we want to play as a team.”
The Penguins still have a shot at getting home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh is only two points shy of the fourth seed (though Philadelphia has one game-in-hand).
“Now that we’re in the playoffs we want to get the best position that we can and those next two games are four points that could give us a nice home-ice advantage,” Staal said. “If not then we’ll go from there. Whatever happens, happens. I think this team will be ready for whoever we face come playoff time.”
Even if there is only a slim chance of gaining home-ice advantage, how can you count the Penguins out? This is a team that went 16-3-4 after Bylsma took over and overcame considerable odds to clinch a playoff berth. The impressive run has catapulted the team and has them playing with confidence. The team’s 180 degree turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable.
“It started with us; we had to make that commitment to each other and improve our play out there individually,” Crosby said. “Guys bought into the style of play and that had to do with the coaching change. The guys that came in at the trade deadline made an impact too.”
Forward Petr Sykora, who scored his 300th goal against Tampa (more on that below), was a true believer even in the darkest hour. While the Penguins were struggling, Sykora consistently predicted that the team would go on a winning stretch.
“Every team usually has this type of run and we hadn’t had one at that point,” said Sykora, who now looks like a fortune teller. “We knew we had a way better team than the standings (showed). I felt that it was a good time to get it. The guys were not really happy when we saw ourselves out of the playoffs.
“I think we’re playing well right now. I feel as good as last year going into the playoffs. We just have to get through those two games and don’t (develop) any bad habits and prepare for the playoffs. I feel as confident as I did last year before the playoffs. I think we can do something special again.”
Last year, of course, the Penguins fought their way into the Stanley Cup Final. Sykora is not the only Penguin that feels this current group can do something special in the postseason.
“We feel the same way about this year’s playoffs, that we can make a run for it and we have a great team in this dressing room,” Staal said. Then he warned, “We haven’t accomplished anything yet but it’s the first step.”Personnel Decisions
With the Penguins now locked into the Stanley Cup playoffs, they now face the normal dilemma at this time of year. How much do you work the roster for the remainder of the regular season in terms of dressing and amount of playing time?
Philippe Boucher will get in definitely. He’ll be in (Thursday). - Dan Bylsma
“There are decisions to make and getting different players in,” Bylsma said. “We’re going through those scenarios right now and we’ll make our decisions (Wednesday) and (Thursday) morning.”
Pittsburgh has two major points they would like to accomplish with goaltender Mathieu Garon and defenseman Philippe Boucher. The veteran blueliner will play for the Penguins against the New York Islanders at Mellon Arena Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.
“Philippe Boucher will get in definitely,” Bylsma said. “He’ll be in (Thursday).”
Boucher, who hasn’t played a game since Jan. 30 after having foot surgery, has been able to play but the team’s top-six blueliners were playing well and the team was winning. With the playoffs clinched, the team now will get Boucher some game action to work off the rust.
The team also wants to give netminder Marc-Andre Fleury
, who has started 28 of the team’s last 29 games, a break heading into the postseason. Garon is expected to start at least one of the team’s final two regular-season games. 300
Petr Sykora’s game-winning tally against Tampa Bay was not only his 10th game-winner of the year (tied for second most in the NHL), but also his 300th goal. Sykora has been chasing the 300 mark for nine games and was relieved to bury the milestone.
“Sometimes when you really want something you start pressing a little bit,” he said. “I wanted to get it right away. It took me some games but it finally happened. For me personally, it’s pretty special. There are a lot of players with a lot more goals but it was something I wanted to achieve this season. I’m kind of relieved.”Exorcise the Demons
The Islanders come into their showdown with the Penguins following the worst loss in franchise history, a 9-0 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
New York will likely try to make amends for the loss by knocking off the Penguins at Mellon Arena. The Penguins know the Islanders will be eager to put on a good performance to exorcize the loss.
“Guys have a lot of pride and when you see a team lose like that, usually the next game you see a different team,” Crosby said. “They have a lot of guys with a lot of pride. They have guys trying to earn a (roster) spot. We have to approach it the same way. It’s a good test for us. They’re a team that’s not battling for a playoff spot but we have to look after ourselves.”
“(The Islanders will) have a good practice, have a talk from the coach and they’ll be ready to play (Thursday),” Sykora said. “I’m sure they’ll play better. I felt that they always played really well against us. Nothing changes. We clinched a playoff spot but we have to continue playing the same way.”“He Said It”
Bill Guerin on playoff beards:
“We do have some guys (on the team) who have a hard time growing a beard. We can always pencil them in.”Archive