Penguins flirt with disaster again but stay white-hot against Chicago
By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, February 15, 2007
They're taking nothing for granted, these Penguins contend, but in the odd moment of personal reflection, they've allowed themselves the guilty pleasure of looking ahead.
At least Ryan Malone has.
"I keep telling guys, if we do get in the playoffs, you know last year, they saw the Steelers and how crazy Pittsburgh gets," Malone said. "I keep telling them Pittsburgh is a great sports town, and it'll be the same way for us if we get in there."
He said "if,' not "when," which made his response perfectly acceptable and not the first sign of a pending apocalypse.
Colby Armstrong seemed to speak more to the team's prevailing mindset when he spoke of the commitment that's been made to put the Penguins in the position of contemplating the playoffs in the first place.
"We said after we came back from the all-star break that we have to play consistent and stay focused,' Armstrong said.
Wednesday night's Mellon Arena visit by the Blackhawks provided some evidence that, while those conversations have clearly contained more than just idle chatter, perhaps, the subject nonetheless needs to be revisited.
Their 5-4 shootout triumph had a sellout crowd standing and screaming before Evgeni Malkin ended it.
But the game the Penguins have been playing of late is as potentially dangerous as it has been exciting.
Chicago came in a respectable 15-15-5 in their last 20 games, but it also arrived at 22-27-7 overall and ranked 13th among 15 teams in the Western Conference.
The Penguins came in riding an almost unthinkable 11-0-2 streak that had catapulted them into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
If there was a game to overlook, if there was a time to go through the motions and get less than maximum effort from everyone, this was it. Such a letdown seemed especially plausible with a stretch of six of the next eight on the road looming, including a game Friday night in New Jersey that has (gasp) first-place implications in the Atlantic Division.
It didn't happen initially.
The Penguins responded at first by being imperfect, yet remaining in control for the better part of two periods against Chicago.
They skated and cycled and fired pucks at Nikolai Khabibulin from all angles.
And the two-goal lead they took to the locker room after 40 minutes was fairly indicative of their superiority.
But in letting a two-goal lead get away for the third consecutive game, the Penguins continued playing with fire, even as they remain on fire.
Another comeback was needed to save the day.
At 12-0-2, there are worse problems to have.