I guess you can officially call it a skid now, as the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost five of their last seven games with their 6-4 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday being their most recent, despite getting two 6-on-5 goals late in the game. As the announcer in International Superstar Soccer 64 says, “A valiant attempt, but thwarted.”
Tonight’s game against the New York Rangers, the last of the four-game set between the two Metropolitan Division rivals, stands to be the most important of the season, at least if Pittsburgh has any hope of recovering their hold on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. With the Carolina Hurricanes continuing to pull away from the Penguins (although on Tuesday they lost in Buffalo to a Sabres team that has decided that late is better than never in terms of playing good hockey, with a rematch slated for tonight in Carolina), the main hope now is for second in the division. The Rangers are presently four points ahead of Pittsburgh after New York’s 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, so a win would only bring Pittsburgh closer to the Rangers and not help them to tie or pass them. The good news on that front is that New York has two games left against Carolina, both on the road, on the 12th and 26th of this month. Home-ice is not completely out of reach for the Penguins yet, and—
WAIT A SECOND, THAT’S JASON ZUCKER’S MUSIC!
I may be jumping the gun here (happens all the time), but Zucker returned to practice yesterday morning in full contact context, meaning he is indeed day-to-day and not worse after he went into the boards awkwardly against the Minnesota Wild last week. Whether he plays tonight or within the next couple of games, he is going to (once again) provide a boost to the lineup that is sorely needed. Jeff Carter can go ply his trade in the bottom six like he’s supposed to instead of dragging down Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell (who I feel like is in serious need of a Game of Thrones Photoshop, sounds like a Stark name), and hopefully the team will remain healthy for at least two periods. (You watch, it’ll only last three periods. And yes, Brock McGinn is still out for now, but he also practiced on Wednesday, albeit in a non-contact fashion.)
At this point, full health, fitness, form…all of those things are standing between the Pittsburgh Penguins and success in the playoffs. They’re obviously good enough to hang with teams like the Avalanche and the Rangers, but they need to be at full strength if they’re going to assert themselves going forward. Otherwise, May will be a disappointingly short month and I’m personally not looking forward to this upcoming offseason.