I’ll be honest, this isn’t what I expected from the Eastern Conference playoff race.
A week ago, I broke down the playoff race in the East and figured that it was down to three teams and one spot — the Bruins, Senators and Panthers. Since then, the Bruins have heated up, while the Red Wings and Penguins are imploding, making the standings a hell of a lot more unpredictable than they were last week. Now there’s three teams tied with 95 points and the Senators on the outside looking in with 93 points.
The best part about it, though, is the Senators are going to face the Penguin tomorrow night in a game that will very likely determine which team grabs a playoff spot in the confusing Eastern Conference.
Two months ago today, the Penguin had a 30-14-8 record and were sitting comfortably in a playoff position in the East. A month later, they were 37-18-9, still looking pretty peachy. Now, they’re 42-26-11 and are only two points up on the Ottawa Senators for the final playoff spot in the conference. What the hell happened here? Well, for one, they can’t score. In their last 12 games, which dates back to March 12, they haven’t scored more than three goals in a game. In fact, they’re averaging just 1.7 goals per game in that span.
The funny thing about the Pens is they aren’t really playing all that badly. Their offence has certainly gone dry over the past month, there’s no arguing that, but it’s not like the wheels have completely fallen off or anything. Since March 1, they’ve put together a 7-9-2 record, which is pretty bad, but it’s actually a lot better than what I expected before looking into it. The issue for them is the fact they’re playing pretty poorly while everybody else around them is playing really well. Since March 1, Ottawa has the best record of anybody in the East with a 13-3-3 record, which has obviously propelled them into the playoff picture. The Bruins, who looked like they were going to fall victim to ottawa’s surge, are riding a five game winning streak and have gone 10-3-4 since March 1. Also, the Capitals have stolen the Pens’ third place spot in the Metro Division with an 11-5-1 record since March 1. The only other two teams who have played as bad as Pittsburgh are Detroit and the Islanders, but since the Pens haven’t done anything themselves, they haven’t been able to capitalize on New York’s poor play.
Poor play by the Penguins over the past month coupled with Washington and Boston getting their acts together has set up an interesting clash between the Pens and the Sens tomorrow night in Ottawa. The Penguins and Senators both have three games remaining and two points separate them in the standings. If the Pens win, the Senators are pretty much done, unless they can manage to catch the Red Wings, who also have 95 points and three games remaining. On the other hand, a Sens win would put the two teams in a tie with each team having two games left in the season.
The two teams have met twice so far this season. Their first game was back in December when the Pens were looking good and the Senators were on a five game losing streak. The Pens outshot the Sens 33-29 on their way to a 3-1 victory. The two teams met again in mid-February, with the Penguins earning a 5-4 shootout win after blowing a 3-0 lead in the third period.
Although this game has massive playoff implications for the two teams, it’s pretty unlikely the Pens slip out of a playoff spot. It would be hilarious if they did, though, because Edmonton owns their first round pick. Imagine if the Oilers won the draft lottery with their pick. The league would cease to operate. Anyways, the Pens play the Sens, then have a couple days off before they play the Islanders at home and then head to Buffalo the next night to finish their season. The Sens on the other hand, have their final two games on the road against the Rangers and Philadelphia. One of these things is not like the other. The Penguins have a really easy schedule to end the year, especially with the way the Islanders are playing. But hey, maybe the Rangers and Flyers will totally mail it in because they want to see the Pens drop out of the playoffs.
Basically, for the Senators to make the playoffs they absolutely need to beat Pittsburgh tomorrow. After that, they need to come up with more points than the Penguins in the final two games no matter what because Pittsburgh owns the ROW tiebreaker, so tomorrow’s game going to overtime would all but sink Ottawa.
Damn, that Holland shootout goal is going to give Sens fans nightmares now. It’ll be like this all over again. Yikes.