Tuesday’s win over the Sabres has clinched a playoff spot for the Penguins. The Penguins have ten games left before the playoffs start. The road ahead will not be easy.
Six of the remaining ten games include games against teams currently in the playoffs. The Pens will play the Senators, the Blackhawks, the Blue Jackets, the Leafs, and they will have two games against the New York Rangers.
Four of the remaining ten games this season are against non-playoff teams. The Pens have one game each against the Islanders, the Hurricanes, the Devils, and the Flyers.
Last season when the Penguins played the Flyers in a late season game in April, Matt Murray left the game at the end of the first after being run down by Brayden Schenn. Since Marc-Andre Fleury was also injured, this injury nearly cost the Pen’s the season. Jeff Zatkoff was forced to start the first two games in the playoff and (miraculously) managed to win one of those games. This year, perhaps the Penguins have learned their lesson. Games against the Flyers, and frankly, most of the remaining 10 games this season should feature exclusively the lesser Penguins. There is no need to risk injuring any of the key players (that are not yet injured).
The Penguins have spent most of the season nestled in one of the top three playoff positions in the Metro Division. If the Pens were to win the division, they would likely open against the Leafs, the Lightning, or the Islanders. A Leafs matchup would be favorable. It is more likely that the Pens will finish either second or third and open against the Blue Jackets or even the Capitals. These matchups, although winnable, are not at all desirable.
There is another option though: tanking the rest of the season. If the Penguins were to drop down into the first wildcard spot, they would open against the Atlantic division winner, likely either the Canadiens or the Senators. Either of these matchups is easier on paper than playing the Capitals or the Blue Jackets in the first round. The Rangers currently have 94 points, while the Pens have 101. Spotting the Rangers the four points from the two remaining matchups would put the Rangers at 98 points. Tanking works for the Penguins. It brought Crosby and Lemieux into the fold and could work again here. The players would not like it and the fans would not like it. However, if it brought another Stanley Cup banner, it would be worth it.