Part of me is a diehard Pens fan and I will cheer for them until the bitter end.
That part won't let me throw in the towel until the final horn sounds.
But...the other part...the rational one...tells me that this team is simply not good enough to make the playoffs.
Last night's 4-3 loss to the Devils was a crusher. Tonight's loss to the Leafs may have been the nail in the coffin.
Last night, the Penguins played a Devils club that was playing in the second night of back to back games and it's 3rd game in 4 nights since the All Star break. The Pens had a 3-1 lead 1/2 way through the 3rd period. All the ingredients were right for a big win against a quality team.
Then the floor fell out from under them.
A tough double minor on Petr Sykora, gave the Devils a power play which got them within 1. Then a heartbreaking goal with less than a minute left in the game (a puck that deflected off defenseman Ryan Whitney) sent the game into OT. The OT was ALL Devils and the Pens got 1 point when they should have had...and definitely needed to have...2.
It was the kind of game that good teams...playoff teams...don't lose.
Tonight's game against the Leafs put the Pens to the test again.
The Leafs had been on the skids at home but were honoring Doug Gilmour in a pre-game ceremony. This is the kind of game where the visiting team needs to play extra hard to get a "W". This is the kind of game that a good team, a playoff bound team, finds a way to win. Especially when the same team allowed a critical point to slip away the night before.
Through 2 periods the Pens trailed 3-1.
In the 3rd they played with more passion and urgency and managed to tie the game at 4 with about 13 miuntes left to play.
This is the time when a good team takes it up a notch and finds a way to complete the comeback. The Devils had done it to the Pens the night before...and the Pens needed to do it to the Leafs tonight.
Jason Blake...a career of Penguin killing already on his resume...found a way to score another big goal half way through the 3rd period and the Leafs made it stick.
When you look at the standings in the morning you will see the Pens are 24-22-5. With 31 games to play, they need to win at least 20 of them to make the playoffs.
24-22-5 is not the record of a good team in today's NHL. 24-22-5 is the record of an average team in this league.
Average will not earn this club or any other (unless SJ/BOS/WAS/DET plays average the rest of the season) a playoff spot.
The diehard fan inside me thinks this team can achieve what's beginning to look like the impossible. And I will watch every game and cheer them on until the end.
But the rational side of me has seen enough to know that the writing is on the wall.
This spring is not going to be anything like last spring for the Penguins and their fans.