On March 12, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat Edmonton, 6-4, to improve to 39-18-10.
They have since lost 11 of 15 to limp into the playoffs.
Scott Ferrall, a diehard Pittsburgh fan, has never seen this type of collapse from his beloved Penguins. Neither has Joe Micheletti.
“You sit back and watch that, I’m like you – I cannot believe they are in this situation,” the NBCSports and MSG NHL analyst said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench.
“Now, I think you have to take into (consideration) that they’ve had some major injuries on defense. You lose Kris (Letang) and (Christian) Ehrhoff. You lose those guys and you have to take that into account. But to me, this team is too good to be in this position that they’re in. It’s absolutely unbelievable that they are in this position. And again, taking into consideration their injuries – that always plays a factor. But you know what? You got some of the top players in the world playing on that team. They shouldn’t be in this position, but they are.”
The Penguins lost to the Islanders, 3-1, in their final home game of the regular season Friday. Rob Scuderi scored their only goal.
“That was his first goal of the season,” Micheletti said. “Rob, he’s the type of player that you want on your team (for depth and defense). There’s too many other players (on that team) that are supposed to be doing (the heavy lifting on offense), and it hasn’t gotten done there.”
Indeed, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin haven’t pulled their weight down the stretch, and now the Penguins (43-27-12) must face the Rangers (53-22-7) in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers, who have player great hockey in recent months, won six of seven to close the season.
“It’s been an unbelievable season (for them),” Micheletti said. “You go back to their first 25 games, they were only a game over .500. They missed (Derek) Stepan for the first 12 games with a broken leg, they lost Dan Boyle for a number of games, (and) they end up losing (Ryan) McDonagh for a number of games. Add to that the fact that they lost (Brad) Richards, they lost Brian Boyle and a number of other players, so they had some holes going into the season. There were some question marks as to who was going to fill those holes, and (Henrik) Lundqvist didn’t have a good start to the season. Then what ends up happening is you start seeing the emergence of some of these young players.”
Like 22-year-old Kevin Hayes, who has 17 goals and 28 assists.
“Hayes has turned out to be just a terrific player, and he’s only gotten better over the course of the year,” Micheletti said.
There’s also Jesper Fast (six goals, eight assists) and J.T. Miller (10 goals, 13 assists). Fast is 23, while Miller is 22.
“These are young players,” Micheletti said, “and then you throw in the rest of what they have, and this is a team that can beat you in a number of different ways.”
The Rangers, of course, also have stellar goal-tending. Lundqvist might be the best goalie in the league, and Cam Talbot proved to be a capable backup when Lundqvist went down with an injury earlier this season.
“Talbot steps in, he wins some games on his own, and the games he didn’t play well, the Rangers outscored the opposition,” Micheletti said. “It was just this machine that kept on rolling. I think what they proved to themselves is that if you want to try to outscore us, we can beat you that way. If you want to try and out-defend us, we can win games by defending. What ended up happening is they built this confidence . . . (that) they can win games in many different ways. They buy in and they’re all together. They know what they have to do to win. There’s no selfishness on this team. It’s really been a fun thing to watch.”
Game 1 between the Rangers and Penguins is Thursday in New York at 7 p.m. ET.