There are 2 weeks left in the NHL regular season, and currently the Penguins sit 2nd in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals have pretty much locked up the the #1 seed so 2nd is the best the Penguins can hope for, and they need to do everything in their power to make sure they get it. New Jersey, currently sitting in 4th, is only 2 points behind the Penguins but have a game in hand which they will play Tuesday night against Boston. A win in that game would put the Devils in atie with the Penguins for points, but NJ has the tie breaker based on 6 – 0 record against Pittsburgh this year. Buffalo sits three points behind with two game in hand. The Pens hold the tie breaker with Buffalo because of their 3 – 1 record. Buffalo will play the first of their in hand games tonight also against Boston so for the next couple of days, we here in Pittsburgh should be big Bruins fans.
The first roundof the playoffs is not going to matter all that much as the Penguins have winning records against every other team that could possibly make the playoffs except for Ottawa against whom they’re 2 – 2. It’s starting in the second round where things could get a bit dicey for the Penguins. A fourth place finish could possibly get them a match-up with the Capitals in the second round assuming both teams win their opening series, and there’s every reason to believe they both will. The Penguins are currently 0 – 2 – 1 against the Caps with one game remaining at Mellon Arena. Should the Penguins then get by Washington, they’d be looking at a Conference Finals against possibly New Jersey against whom the Pens are winless this season.
By finishing second or third, the Pens would still have their requisite first round series against a team from the bottom half of the bracket, but their second round opponent would either be Buffalo, assuming they win their series, or someone even lower in the standings should Buffalo get upset. The Pens finished the season 3 – 1 against Buffalo pretty much owning Ryan Miller in the process. That would leave New Jersey and Washington to have to face each other in the second round and leaving only the victor for the Penguins in the Conference Finals. Now, second would definitely be preferential to third in this instance as it would give the Pens the home ice advantage over Buffalo in Round 2 and against anyone else save Washington in the Conference Finals.
Let’s take a look at the teams’ remaining schedules.
Pittsburgh – Home: Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Washington, New York Islanders Away: Atlanta, New York Islanders
New Jersey – Home: Boston, Chicago, New York Islanders, Buffalo Away: Carolina, Atlanta, Florida
Buffalo – Home: Florida, New York Rangers Away: Boston(2), Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, New Jersey
Of all of these teams, Pittsburgh clearly has the easier schedule playing only one game against a team that has currently qualified for the playoffs, and only having two road games left. New Jersey still has that sometimes dangerous three game Southern swing as well as a game against Chicago. Buffalo only has two home games remaining as well as road games at Ottawa who clearly has their number this year as Buffalo is winless in their first 5 meetings and at New Jersey on the final day of the season.
Given these schedules, and the way they have performed against the teams remaining, the Penguins clearly should have a lock on the second spot. All they need to do now is get healthy and beat the teams they should beat.