When the Penguins face the Sabres tonight (3/30/2012), there's a lot on the line. And due to a couple of stinkers against the Islanders, the Penguins have more at stake in this game than some may realize.
For the Sabres, a win keeps them in the 8th playoff spot in the East (at least) and moves them 2 points ahead of the Capitals with both teams having 4 games remaining after this contest. Clearly for them, as it has been for about a month, it continues to be do or die on a nightly basis.
For the Penguins, who are already in the playoffs, things are much less critical...but not lacking importance. A win tonight keeps them on pace to stay 2 points ahead of the Flyers for 4th in the conference (and home ice in round 1) and would mean they would not lose any ground (and could gain) on the Rangers who also play tonight against the Canadiens in New York.
While a loss by the Penguins would not be as detrimental to them as one by the Sabres would be (to the Sabres), the Pens would definitely be in for a tougher finish to the season than anyone would have expected a week ago, if they can't find a way to beat Buffalo tonight.
Losing tonight, coupled with a Rangers win, would make the 1st seed in the conference almost impossible to achieve. With 4 games remaining for both teams, the Penguins would have to win ALL of them, and the Rangers lose all of theirs (they play each other 1 time) in order for the Penguins to get the 108 points necessary to pass the Rangers.
Even if the Rangers were to lose as well, the 5 point lead with 4 games left would mean the Penguins would need to beat the Rangers and win at least 2 of the other 3 games (106 points) and hope the Rangers didn't win another game.
No matter how you look at it, 1st place in the East, as slim as the possibility is right now, pretty much goes out the window for sure, if the Pens lose tonight.
Losing tonight would also leave the Pens only 2 points up on the Flyers...and the Flyers would have a game in hand...AND they face the Pens twice in the remainder of the season).
If the Flyers would win that game in hand, the Penguins would need to earn at least a split with the Flyers, and keep pace with the Flyers in the other two games, to hold onto the 4th place spot.
A week ago, this game seemed like it would mean a lot more to the Sabres than it would to the Penguins.
While it still means more to Buffalo, how much more has become the question.
Clearly, a loss tonight by the Penguins would not only make holding onto 4th place in the conference a much tougher task, it could potentially further hurt the confidence of a team that last week seemed to be able to beat anybody they played.
I don't usually like to make predictions because I really don't think anybody knows how something will play out until it's over. As much as people might have a feel, or see how a team is behaving, and base a prediction on that, unless you sit in the ROOM with both teams, it's hard to tell.
Going strictly by what we've seen on the ice in the last couple of games, if the Penguins don't bring their hardhats and lunchboxes tonight, they are going to lose.
I'd like to think the last two games, coupled with some recent success against the Sabres, will be enough motivation for the Penguins to 'get to their game' tonight, but I'm just not sure they have been shaken out of their 'highest scoring team in the league' daze yet.
Don't take that as I think they walk around saying that in the locker room...that would not be like this team...and be too easy to fix.
Rather, it's that little thought that sticks in the back of your brain that gives you a sense of confidence...sometimes false...that can lead you to NOT work as hard as you need to or should in order to win a game.
Even if they lose tonight, I am hoping to see them play like they did BEFORE they were the highest scoring team in the league. That would at least tell me they are on the right track when it comes to the kind of hockey they need to play to win playoff games.
Thanks for reading!