The Pittsburgh Penguins got a much needed win last night. They finally beat a Metropolitan foe in regulation, something they had yet to accomplish in 2015. Their only WIN against a Metropolitan foe in 2015 came against New Jersey in overtime at the end of January. More importantly for the Penguins, their regulation win last night against the Washington Capitals gave them not only a much needed cushion in the standings, but also a much needed mental boost as the last month of the season approaches. The Penguins have not looked great against Metropolitan opponents this year and last nights game has typically been the type of game that the Penguins seem to find a way to lose. The game was extremely physical and well, sloppy, as each team amassed eighteen penalty minutes. After the bench brawl, at the 8:13 mark of the 1st period, the game barely went two minutes of 5-on-5 play over the next period and a half without a player being sent to the penalty box. For Penguins fans this had to look a little bit like déjà vu from the Penguins last meeting with the Capitals on February 17. Few hockey fans need to be reminded that it was at the beginning of the 3rd period of that game when Alexander Ovechkin took this shot at Kris Letang.
The Penguins spent the majority of the rest of the 3rd period of that game in the penalty box, which cost them the game as Joel Ward broke the 1-1 tie with this power play goal late in the 3rd and the Capitals went on to win 3-1.
Last night looked eerily similar and it appeared that the Penguins might find a way to lose this type of game again after Alexander Ovechkin got the Capitals within one goal with this power play goal late in the 3rd period of Wednesdays game.
However, the Penguins held on and snatched a significant victory last night, which Penguins fans hope is a sign of things to come and it could not have come at a better time. If the Penguins managed to lose last nights game they would have been one point behind the streaking Capitals, three points behind the New York Rangers and five points behind the New York Islanders who lead the Metropolitan Division. Not that these would have been impossible gaps to make up, but the Penguins need to stay close if their goal is to at least win the Metropolitan Division and hope to have home ice advantage in the playoffs. As it is now, after last nights regulation win, the Penguins are currently third in the Metro just one point behind the Rangers and three points behind the Islanders and have the next three days off before they face their new Metropolitan rival in Columbus.
The Penguins have put together a relatively impressive string of victories since being outplayed last week by the Capitals and Blue Jackets. It appeared that after these two losses that their division dreams were slipping away. However, since then the Penguins have gone 3-0-0 beating St. Louis, Florida, and Washington by a combined score of 13 – 6. The Penguins not only scored four or more goals in each of those games, but Sidney Crosby, who was held pointless for three straight games prior to the St. Louis game, got back in the point column notching at least one point in the Penguins last three games. These appear to be signs that the Penguins might be righting the ship at the perfect time of the season. With just over one month of hockey left to play this season the Penguins need to find a consistent level of scoring and physical play, all of which they have managed to accomplish over the last three games and in particular epitomized in their play last night.
The real tests are about to come for the Penguins as they only have seven more games against Metropolitan opponents, including two against the Flyers and two against the Blue Jackets who have already combined to beat the Penguins in all four games they played against them this season. Sunday March 1st the Penguins face the Blue Jackets and the push for the playoffs officially begins. If the Penguins can keep this momentum and balanced play over the next month of hockey they will most likely find themselves neck and neck with the Islanders for the division title, which could very likely be decided in their contest on Friday April 10. Penguins fans will just have to wait and see, but if they win against Columbus on Sunday it might be a good sign of things to come in March.