The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched second place and home ice with their win at Washington.
How hot are the Penguins? Eight straight wins. Playoff bound. Nobody wants to play this team right now.
This is all without star Evgeni Malkin, who’s been sidelined since early March. In that span Phil Kessel has awaken from his long winter slumber. The duo of Kessel and Carl Hagelin has become a dynamic one-two punch. Oh yeah, and Sidney Crosby is showing why he is the best in the world.
Since the Penguins dumped Mike Johnston for Mike Sullivan, Crosby has been able to spread his wings in the offensive attack. He is taking games over. His assertiveness on the ice is at an all-time high. It beckons to the days of Lemieux.
Kris Letang has also benefited. An injury plagued start to his season made it looked as if he would suffer through another disappointing season. Now he’s a Norris Trophy candidate, sitting third amongst defensemen in points. Letang has already set career highs in goals, assists and points. His flower has finally blossomed.
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Speaking of the Flower, Marc-Andre Fleury will be out through the weekend with his concussion. It remains to be seen if he will be ready in time for the start of the playoffs. But have no fear, Matt Murray is here. In his last 5 games, Murray has gone 5-0 with a .917 save percentage. He has struggled at times, allowing the Capitals to erase their three goal deficit. Despite his faults, the young net minder has played well beyond his years, something you don’t expect from a kid 21 years old. If Fleury is not able to go, I have faith in Murray.
The Penguins are not in the slow lane heading into the playoffs. They are going full throttle, speeding 100 mph down the highway. No one wants to play them. No one wants to see them. The Steelers were in the same situation back in January, but that went up in flames when injuries finally caught up to them.
If the Penguins can remain healthy and continue playing at this level, another banner could be hanging in the rafters come next season.