Despite the slow start, any Penguins fan watching the third period and subsequent overtime of their thrilling 2-1 victory over the defending champion Colorado Avalanche could not help but notice that this was not just another regular season win.
The intensity and sense of urgency was at a different level. With each shift you could feel the desperation building. The kind of desperation that only happens when every goal, every game is of the utmost importance. That emotionally draining climate synonymous with playoff hockey.
Such is the life of an NHL team plagued by inconsistency over the first half of the season and now in a fight for their postseason lives. Every goal matters, every point is precious. The stress that is normally reserved for an April or May playoff series prematurely starts in February.
One glance at the Penguins current position in the standings and it’s clear they better have a sense of urgency if they want to prolong their sixteen-year playoff streak.
With 59 points and 50 games played, the Penguins find themselves tied with the red-hot New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Due to the Penguins playing in four less games, they have a superior point percentage and therefore currently hold the tiebreaker over the Islanders to precariously claim the final spot.
Breathing down their necks with 56 points are two more surging teams. The upstart Buffalo Sabres and explosive Florida Panthers have both gone 6-2-2 in their last ten games and only trail the Penguins by a mere three points.
MoneyPuck currently gives the Penguins a perilous 52.8% chance of making the NHL Playoffs this year. With such a slim margin of error the Penguins can ill afford to have another one of the six or seven game losing streaks that led to this uneasy position. In fact, a third at this point of the season would certainly be disastrous.
Conversely, if they can put together another seven-game winning streak like they did in early December they could realistically slingshot past the seventh place Capitals and find themselves challenging the Rangers, who they have three games remaining against, for third in the Metropolitan Division.
Finding a way to get above and out of the two wild card spots would be ideal unless you are looking to be first round cannon fodder for a Boston team that has only lost one game at home this year or a Carolina team that hasn’t lost in regulation since January 10th.
But first things first.
There are thirty-two games left, less than a month until the trade deadline, and you are one of five teams fighting for the last two available playoff spots. If there was ever a time to step on the gas, that time is now.
Buckle up Penguins fans, it’s sure to be one hell of a ride.