Take a look at the NHL Eastern Conference standings today.
A couple of things come immediately to mind:
1) The Penguins are 2 points out of first place. What??? They lost Evgeni Malkin for the season, Sidney Crosby for two months and probably the season, Chris Kunitz for 13 games, Mark Letestu for six weeks, Brooks Orpik for six weeks, and Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Martin and Matt Cooke for extended stretches as well. How is this even possible? Don't think about it too much; it may blow your mind.
2) The Penguins would do well to hang on to the #4 seed in the East. Come on, they're doing it with smoke and mirrors, right? Even with the additions of James Neal and Alexei Kovalev and a roster that's as close to healthy as it's been in months, Pittsburgh can't hang with the top 3 teams down the stretch. The Flyers have two games in hand. As we discussed in our podcast, the Capitals are heating up. Just play good hockey down the stretch, stave off Tampa, and try to win a playoff series.
Now hang on. Check yourself with respect to that second point. Look at the Pens' remaining schedule:
Mar 12 Montreal
Mar 13 Edmonton
Mar 15 @ Ottawa
Mar 20 NY Rangers
Mar 21 @ Detroit
Mar 24 @ Philadelphia
Mar 25 New Jersey
Mar 27 Florida
Mar 29 Philadelphia
Mar 31 @ Tampa Bay
Apr 2 @ Florida
Apr 5 New Jersey
Apr 8 @ NY Islanders
Apr 10 @ Atlanta
See those two games against Philly? If the Penguins manage to take three out of four points from the Flyers, and that's a very big but attainable if, there goes Philadelphia's advantage. That leaves 12 games, six against non-playoff teams (Thrashers, Panthers twice, Islanders, Oilers, Senators). Of the other six games, four are at home (Habs, Rangers, Devils, Devils again). It says here that if the Penguins take 20 out of the 28 points still on the table, they win the East. That's a 10-4 record, give or take, and it's not unrealistic.
You'll never hear us argue in this space that getting the top seed means much at the end of the day. It's not what anybody plays for. It's not what wins Cups. But under the circumstances? Can you imagine?