Pittsburgh Penguins Squeeze Into Playoffs, Will Face New York Rangers In First Round


Apr 11, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) scores a goal on Buffalo Sabres goalie Anders Lindback (35) during the third period at First Niagara Center. Pittsburgh beats Buffalo 2 to 0. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Sutter scored twice and Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves for his league-leading 10th shutout of the season, as the Pittsburgh Penguins locked up their ninth consecutive playoff berth with a 2-0 win in Buffalo on Saturday night.

This is the first time in the Sidney CrosbyEvgeni Malkin era that the Penguins had anywhere near this much drama late in the regular season. In fact, Saturday marked 25 years since the previous time that a Pittsburgh postseason appearance hung in the balance for the final game of the schedule.

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In 1990, Buffalo defenseman Uwe Krupp ensured the Pens wouldn’t advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs when he scored an overtime goal at the old Civic Arena. This year, the Sabres couldn’t play spoiler, even though their quest to secure the NHL’s worst record – and thus a guaranteed top-two draft pick – had already been accomplished.

Sutter’s 20th and 21st goals of the season came at 14:23 of the second period and 8:26 of the third. The former was scored on a whirling backhand past Beau Bennett‘s screen, while the latter was the result of a perfect pass from Daniel Winnik.

It wasn’t a dynamic performance by any means, but it was enough to end a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) for the Pens, who finished the season with a 43-27-12 record. By virtue of Saturday’s result – and wins earlier in the day by Ottawa and Detroit – Pittsburgh ended up as the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.

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  • Because of their lowly seeding, the Pens will face the President’s Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the first round of the Metropolitan Division bracket. The Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Penguins in last year’s second round, a defeat that triggered the dismissal of general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma.

    Mike Johnston’s first year in charge of the Pens nearly ended in a spectacular collapse, although ultimately his team’s 22-6-4 start to the season was what got it into the playoffs. Pittsburgh will unequivocally enter the 16-team tournament as the coldest club still alive for a championship, as it went 4-9-2 over the previous five weeks.

    At the same time, one thing the Penguins won’t be able to do this spring is lose to a lower-seeded team. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has gone 4-5 in playoff series, with each of their losses coming against teams that finished below them in the standings.

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    Also, the Pens’ victory in Game 82 sounded the final buzzer on the Boston Bruins’ season. The 2011 Cup champs will not compete in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

    Meanwhile, the Penguins’ nine-year postseason streak is the second-longest in the NHL today. Only the Detroit Red Wings, at an insane 24 seasons, have a lengthier run intact.

    The other first-round series in the East are Tampa Bay-Detroit, Washington-New York Islanders and Montreal-Ottawa. The full Stanley Cup playoff schedule will be announced Sunday by the NHL.