The Pittsburgh Penguins' Playoff Push: Balls to the Wall

WoooooSenior Writer IMarch 9, 2009
You talk about solid 80's one-hit wonders, you talk about ACCEPT

There are many people who wrote the Pittsburgh Penguins off after their four game losing streak in late December/early January.
Maybe it was because it was cold as balls in Western Pennsylvania and people were just irritated.

Maybe it was because the majority of these "Penguin fans" have never followed a National Hockey League organization for longer than the duration of the 2007-08 playoffs.

Tell daddy you want to go to a Pirates game, it's cheaper.
Still, there were some people who remained confident that the Pens would turn things around.

Then came a 5-7-1 record in the month of January.

A little more leg room opened up on the bandwagon.
People were actually booing the Pens at home games. Those same people were calling for Marc-Andre Fleury to be shipped back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton because he "obviously isn't ready for the NHL."
Those same people were touching themselves over how "cute" the Penguins' new third jerseys looked.
Then came the firing of Head Coach Michel Therrien. People who have known no other coach during their tenure as "Penguin fans" were ready to burn shit down.

"Therrien was so successful. He led us to the Finals. He helped Crosby and Malkin become awesome players."
I'm not taking anything away from HCMT, but something had to be done.
In no way, shape, or form did Therrien have anything to do with the development of Crosby and Malkin, aside from possibly teaching them some discipline, how to avoid pluralizing any word in the English language, and how to back check like demons.

You don't teach big-time talent.
That's like claiming that Bruce Boudreau has something to do with Ovechoke's 29 shots on goal per game average. You don't teach a joke to shoot a lot, he just does it because he is "Big Russian Machine that love to shoot pucks."

Then, Disco Dan Bylsma came to town.

The Pens posted a 3-1-1 record during Bylsma's first five games, and looked like a completely different team while doing it.

IHCDB basically called Therrien's trapping system a joke.
The Pens elevated the intensity of their game, at both ends of the ice, and it started resulting in W's on a consistent basis.

Ray Shero was on the horn during the days leading up to the trade deadline.

He shipped Ryan Whitney and his minus-15 to California to play in the conference where sub par defensemen are expected to be sub par defensemen and not fabricated to be a hell of a lot better than they really are.

If Chris Pronger was traded to an Eastern Conference team, he would kill himself from the pressure of high expectations. Instead, he stays in Anaheim, where he can bask in his mediocrity, and everyone is completely fine with it.

In exchange for Whitney, Shero brought in Chris Kunitz and some prospect that is a beast in the OHL.
Max Talbot was a beast in the QMJHL, and he turned out to be a third/fourth line role player and a solid penalty killer, so let's not rub our balls about Tangradi too much just yet.

Nonetheless, Kunitz picked up a goal and an assist in his first game in a Penguins' uniform.
Four days later, he scored two goals in a game against Tampa Bay.
Now he's playing on a line with Sidney Crosby, and unlike Pascal Dupuis, he can pass the puck.
On deadline day, King Shero acquired Bill Guerin for a bag of pucks and a $25 gift certificate for Primanti Brothers.
He also brought in some Wozniewski guy from St. Louis and added a gritty winger from Chicago, namely Craig Adams.
Miroslav Satan was told to pack his $3.5 million bags and head to the minors.

Guerin and Kunitz are both definitely upgrades from Whitney and Satan, so this year's deadline was a success.

The Pens have rattled off six victories in a row. They are coming off of a five game road trip in which they picked up 10 huge points.

They've won 5-3, they've won 1-0, they've won 3-1 and 4-1. The point of that extremely hard to read sentence is this: they're finding ways to win games that they weren't winning a month ago.

The Pens looked relaxed, yet determined. Motivated, yet comfortable.

And they are finally able to roll four solid lines that don't consist of 12 players that will be career AHL'ers.

Foreword by Chris Minard.
Yet, they are still only on the cusp on a playoff berth.

The Pens are set to host Florida Tuesday night and will travel to that state to our west that likes to pretend it's a suburb of Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Then, it's an eight game home stand to close out the month of March. Ottawa, Boston, Atlanta, LA, Pilthadelphia, Calgary, NY Rangers, and the Devils are all on the menu.

This is a huge stretch for the Pens, and it couldn't come at a better time. Could this be the schedule-makers' way of showing sympathy for a short off-season, or an early season trip to Siberia to play two games in a golf ball? Probably not, but it's fun to think so.

However you look at, this season has had its ups and downs, but it ain't over yet. In fact, you could say the season has only begun.

As we all know, the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season.

We have seen the Capitals' shaky goaltending and reliance on their power play to score goals. A playoff series between the Pens and Caps would be one of the most annoying events in the history of time.

Caps' fans seem to have a weird infatuation with Sidney Crosby. They go out of their way to attempt to make fun of/mock Sid. Really all they accomplish is making themselves look like jokes.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B. If those two aren't blood relatives, I'd be shocked.
(The Pensblog)
Penguin fans know Ovechkin is good. Penguin fans hate Ovechkin because he plays for a team that is not named "Pittsburgh Penguins." End of story. Nobody is dressing up like a caveman at the Mellon Arena to mock him or spending thousands of dollars on pacifiers from Alaska to hand out to grown human beings at a professional sporting event.

It's not like AO doesn't give us the opportunity to job him. I think my sister has those shoes...
If the girl in Exhibit A ever touches a male that isn't her pet kitten Fluffy, the sky will fall.

We are witnessing the Boston Bruins slumping at the worst time of the year. They still have to be considered a very tough first round opponent, due to their physicality and ability to wear down the opposition over the course of a seven game series.

We have witnessed the Rangers and Habs make coaching changes in an attempt to spark their respective playoff pushes.

Carolina just scored 9 goals in a game. Too bad no one outside of Raleigh is giving them a shot to finish in the top eight.
Florida is playing solid hockey right now, but don't kid yourselves, no one actually thinks they have what it takes to win a best-of-seven series against any team in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers are, well, the Flyers. They'll make the playoffs, they'll likely benefit from a gracious first round match up, and they'll seal their own fate in the second round with some dumb penalties and lackluster goaltending. Debby Briere is still attempting to be healthy for two consecutive games.
You talk about a waste of millions of dollars, you talk about Daniel Briere.

As strange as it may seem, the New Jersey Devils might be the toughest first round match up for any team in the East right now.

The point of all of this is: the Penguins aren't the only team battling right now. There is no team, including Boston, who should feel 100% comfortable with their position right now. And there is no team that will feel 100% comfortable with their position right now.

Nobody's laying down, nobody's giving up. It's going to be a battle for position right down to April 11.

The positive in all of this, as far as Penguin fans are concerned, is that there probably aren't many teams in the Eastern Conference who would look forward to a first round match up against a Pittsburgh Penguin team that is playing its' best hockey of the season right now.

Let's Go Pens


    On This Date in Pens History: Pittsburgh Won Its First Stanley Cup

    Pittsburgh Penguins logo
    Pittsburgh Penguins

    On This Date in Pens History: Pittsburgh Won Its First Stanley Cup

    via PensBurgh

    Conn Smythe: It Is Fleury's to Lose

    NHL logo

    Conn Smythe: It Is Fleury's to Lose

    Adam Gretz
    via ProHockeyTalk

    Looking at McPhee's Strategic Moves

    NHL logo

    Looking at McPhee's Strategic Moves

    Sean Leahy
    via ProHockeyTalk

    After ’20 Long, Dry Years,’ Caps Are Finally Back

    NHL logo

    After ’20 Long, Dry Years,’ Caps Are Finally Back

    Joey Alfieri
    via ProHockeyTalk