Well folks, here it is, the last game of the 2022-23 regular season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Over the last sixteen years we’ve seen plenty of meaningless games in the last week(s) of the regular season, but for an entirely different reason. Often it has been the case that the Penguins are already in the playoffs, or even locked into their seeding, and the end of the season serves as an opportunity to rest your best players and prepare for the postseason. On a few occasions they have needed the last few games to lock down their playoff berth, but their fate in that regard has almost always been in their hands.
As I write this Gameday post however, their fate is not in their hands whatsoever. They gave up the initiative with Tuesday’s 5-2 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks, and now there is not but two terrible conclusions ahead for Pittsburgh. If they lose, they’re out of the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s and Evgeni Malkin’s rookie season and Mario Lemieux’s final one in 2005-06. If they win, they may still be out of the playoffs if the New York Islanders beat theMontreal Canadians last night. If the Islanders lose, the Penguins make the playoffs and face one of, if not the, most dominant team in NHL history, the Boston Bruins. I would quote Scotty from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – “Better to kill them now and get it over with” – but Captain Kirk and Commander Spock escaped from their life imprisonment at Rura Penthe (“known throughout the galaxy as the aliens’ graveyard”), whereas there is exceedingly little hope for Pittsburgh against a Bruins team that swept them in the regular season this year as well as in 2013, one of Pittsburgh’s most dominant seasons that nevertheless ended in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In any event, the Penguins are screwed. They’re either screwed after an Islanders win last night or they’ll be screwed in a couple of weeks. (Which, hey, if they pushed Boston to seven games, I guess I would be pleasantly surprised!) But we should avoid the delusion that this Pittsburgh team, which couldn’t even win against one of the worst teams in the League in the Penguins’ last home game of the season (fan appreciation night no less), will be able to stand toe-to-toe against a Bruins team that casually won fourteen of its last fifteen games while resting a bunch of its players. I could elaborate further but I honestly don’t want to face the probability of the Penguins making the playoffs just to get railroaded. It would be a lot easier if the Islanders would just win last night and save us all the embarrassment of having to watch Pittsburgh feel the compulsion to try to win tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If they are eliminated before today, then tonight’s game is only relevant to those participating.
(Ed: the Islanders won, so the Penguins are out of the playoffs.)
In case you can’t tell, I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this season and moving forward. Making the playoffs is not the consolation prize anybody wants if there’s no chance of winning a series, let alone a game. It certainly would not change matters much in terms of where this team is right now and what needs to be done to it, which is a well considered retooling and definitely not by the guy who is general manager right now. We need to move forward, and the sooner, the better if you ask me.