Penguins inch closer to non-playoff spot with loss to Columbus, Ottawa win

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Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky, left, of Russia, makes a save as teammate Jack Johnson, center, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist, of Sweden, look for the rebound during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets beat the Penguins 5-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky, left, of Russia, makes a save as teammate Jack Johnson, center, and Pittsburgh Penguins' Patric Hornqvist, of Sweden, look for the rebound during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets beat the Penguins 5-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have finally stunk enough to where they’re in danger of missing the playoffs. But no team captained by Canadian superhero Sidney Crosby could ever miss the postseason, right?

The Penguins lost 5-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. With Ottawa’s overtime victory over the Washington Capitals, the Sens are three points back of the Pens – and the two play one another Tuesday. Ottawa has a winnable game against Toronto on Sunday. Pittsburgh has a #rivalrygame against the Flyers before that contest. Both have four games left. 

From our friend Empty Netters:

The Bruins play the Maple Leafs tonight in what should be an easy win. And the Senators have a tough game at home against the Capitals. If each team wins, the Penguins are in eighth place with a three-point lead over the Senators. If the Penguins lose to the Flyers tomorrow - as has been the case in the past seven meetings - and the Senators beat the Maple Leafs tomorrow, Tuesday's Penguins-Senators game in Ottawa could essentially become a playoff game.

It’s not that the Penguins have been horrible. But they haven’t been playing like a team worthy of the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says:

This isn't a collapse so much as a trend, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

The Penguins, following their 5-3 loss Saturday at Columbus, are in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“It's embarrassing,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “We aren't playing like a team that deserves to be in the playoffs.”

Crosby stated the extremely clear obvious fact to the Trib: 

“We need points,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It's not a surprise (that teams are close to catching them). We're well aware of it. It's pretty clear. We need points.”

The story notes Pittsburgh is 20-19-6 since Dec. 22. Penguins have won three times in their last 11. Good teams sometimes hit cruise control when they feel secure with their playoff spot. But the Senators have thrown the Eastern Conference playoff picture around. Teams, like Pittsburgh, that were safe are suddenly in tenuous positions. Also, it doesn't help that Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff are all hurt. 

I’ve often been critical about how Pittsburgh just seems to lack a tough identity to win big, close and meaningful games. They’ve made moves to try to rectify these problems, acquiring Nick Spaling and Patrick Hornqvist as well as Maxim Lapierre and Steve Downie. But if they don’t make the playoffs, it’ll be worse for the Pens than a year ago when Pittsburgh blew a 3-1 lead to the Rangers and lost in seven games in the second round of the postseason. This helped lead to a general manager and coaching change. 

Is it quantifiable to say they lack the ‘toughness’ to win big games? No. It's just a feeling I get about the team, that they're a little softer than other contending squads.

But a collapse out of the playoffs would be a darker mark on the organization than any other flameouts under former general manager Ray Shero and ex-coach Dan Bylsma.

Said Pensburgh: 

A lot of chicken littles worrying about the Pens playoff hopes- but big picture things are OK. Pittsburgh has 95 points- usually enough to make the playoffs in the East. And a game against Buffalo too. Plus Evgeni Malkin is coming back. It was definitely a bad game and not comforting to watch the team blow it, but on the macro, I wouldn't put so much stock in a season collapse. 

Will they miss the playoffs? Probably not. According to Sports Club Stats, they have a 97.5 percent chance of making the postseason. But it’s getting way too interesting for the Pens.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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