Because they’ve been in opposite conferences for most of their shared existence in the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings don’t meet that often in the regular season or playoffs.
However, with the Wings’ move to the Eastern Conference, the two teams have squared off twice times already this season and will battle for a third time next week in Pittsburgh. It’s been a welcome change for two passionate hockey towns separated by a mere four-hour drive.
Those (relatively) good feelings could quickly dissipate later this month. According to Sports Club Stats, the Penguins and Red Wings have a 64 percent chance of meeting in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin April 16. That’s a 32 percent increase from a week ago.
While a rematch of the 2008 and ’09 Stanley Cup Finals is far from guaranteed, it’s become a probability as Detroit continues to surge toward its 23rd consecutive postseason berth. The possibility of an Interstate-70 matchup with Columbus is still feasible, although that has dropped to a 24 percent chance with the Blue Jackets now three points behind the Wings for the East’s top wild card spot.
You’d better believe the NHL would love to see two of its flagship franchises duel to the death in a seven-game set. The league has to be similarly thrilled about the Flyers and Rangers being on a first-round collision course, but that potential matchup doesn’t bring the (relatively) recent championship memories of Pittsburgh-Detroit.
It’s a unique situation, borne from realignment. And it would be a heck of a way to start one of the most exciting spectacles in sports, the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (48-23-5, 101 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Jets (34-33-10, 78 points – 6th Central) at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre
Faceoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh
Radio: 105.9 The X
The Penguins announced Thursday that defenseman Paul Martin will return to the ice after missing 18 games due to a broken hand suffered at the Sochi Olympics. Martin worked with Matt Niskanen on the points during power-play drills with the first unit, and coach Dan Bylsma indicated Martin will be paired with usual partner Brooks Orpik in Winnipeg.
This is the start of a three-game Western Conference road trip for the Pens. They have beaten the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise 17 out of the past 20 times they’ve gotten together. Pittsburgh can clinch a division crown, its second in a row, with a single standings point.