The Battle for 6th?

Currently the Pens are in 6th place in the Conference standings. This could be the best draw of the whole playoffs, at least for the Eastern Conference. This would almost guarantee that the Pens would match-up with whoever ends up winning the absolutely abysmal Southeast Division. As of right now the Winnipeg Jets are actually on top of that division with 67 points, if not for their automatic seeding as division leader, this would put them in 8th place in the conference overall, this is 6 fewer points than the Pens have, and the Pens have 3 games in hand on the Jets.

Unless the Pens can catch the NY Rangers, they have no chance of seeing such a favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs. As of right now, pretty much every team except Carolina still has a chance of winning the Southeast Division (although Carolina is only 9 points back of the division lead, for comparison, the Pens are currently 8 points back of the Rangers), all of these teams would be good matchups for the Pens. Let’s take a look at why:

• Winnipeg – they don’t have good offense, they don’t have good defense, and their goaltending is maybe 2% above average. The entire reason why they are leading the division right now is that first, they have played the most games of anyone in the Eastern Conference so far, and second, they do have one of the best home ice advantages in the league. Its not just that they have a really rabid fan base (which they do), or that they play in a tiny, loud arena (which they do), it’s the fact that they are located in mid-western Canada and are playing a bunch of teams from the furthest corner of the United States. This is the only thing that would scare me about Winnipeg, if the Pens face them, then we would have to travel so far over the course of the series, which could lead to some wearing down if the Pens can make a deep push.
• Florida – I hope Florida is the team to win the Southeast. They have the longest current streak for missing the playoffs, they actually have some likeable players (namely Stephen Weiss and Ed Jovanovski), and the Pens would have no problem dismantling them in the postseason. The Panthers are the team sitting in 8th place right now. They have 66 points (in 59 games, compared to the 63 games that Winnipeg has played) and have probably been the best team in the Southeast this season, for what that’s worth.
• Washington – haha. What else can you say? Ovechkin may not finish in the top 50 in scoring this year, Boudreau got fired, and new coach Dale Hunter has nothing on the Penguins. I would fear the Capitals more if Boudreau were still in charge. Just last week we saw that Boudreau knows how to beat Dan Bylsma when he came back from a deficit with his new team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, sorry Anaheim Ducks. It looks like Washington has arrived, at a Lottery Pick for this year’s draft.
• Tampa Bay – probably the least desirable matchup for the Pens from the Southeast. They still have an incredible offense led by 3 of the best forwards in the last decade. We are only one year removed from one of the most surprising playoff meltdowns in Penguins history at the expense of these same Lightning. They have no defense, and Dwayne Roloson has decided to act like a 40 year old finally. Despite all that, the Lightning have moved up to 11th in the conference (from last) in little more than a month. Unlike most teams in the Southeast they have actually been playing winning hockey recently, and that might be all it takes to win that division.

Now if the Pens don’t finish in sixth, the situation will be much uglier. More than likely they would have to matchup with either the Philadelphia Flyers or the New Jersey Devils. I’m sorry but a first round series against either of these teams will be a big challenge.

As much as it pains me to say it, the Flyers might be the deepest team in the NHL, every position is solid, well except for their number one defenseman, and top goaltender. We’ve struggled for a couple years against the Flyers, and the first round is probably the worst place for us to run into them.

The same could be said of the Devils. They may not be as deep, but they definitely have some big guns on offense, a solid defense, and ultimately the best goalie of all time. Again, a first round matchup would be the worst time to face the Devils. Brodeur is definitely aging rapidly, I wouldn’t be afraid of playing him in the second or third round, after he’s gotten run down by a long, physical series against the Flyers, but in the first round he could still stymie the Pens, as he still does with disappointing regularity.

I certainly believe that the Pens can beat either of these teams, especially if a certain captain is able to come back for the playoffs this year, but please, Coach Dan, give your guys a chance in the postseason, go for number 6.

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