Penguins' success in face of adversity deserves praise. But should we change playoff expectations?

Apr. 27—I write this column not so much as an opinion piece on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It's more of a cathartic cry for help. A plea to Pens fans to help me surf through my complex, layered emotions as the 2021 regular season draws to a close.

Because if you were a fortune teller and you had told me when this compressed season started that the Penguins would be in first place in late April, I would've thought that you were still drunk from New Year's Eve.

Especially if you had also been able to tell me the extent of the injuries that Mike Sullivan's group would have to endure along the way.

However, if you had been able to see that the Penguins would be part of a four-team East Division playoff pack, where only seven points separated first place from fourth and only four points separated fourth place from fifth, I would've said that sounds exactly right.

I just would've expected the Penguins to be the fourth-place team scrapping for their playoff lives, not the first-place team.

Again, especially considering the injuries this franchise has sustained.

My inclination is to keep shoveling praise at the feet of Mike Sullivan and the players who have battled through this star-crossed, oddly constructed season with such consistency.

Because they deserve it.

So I'm going to keep doing it.

But that doesn't necessarily mean I'm pushing all my chips into the center of the table for the playoffs either. For as much as the Penguins' solid foundation of play this regular season is forcing me to change my eye level on postseason potential, my view is still looking back at those hideous playoff failures against the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders in the last two playoff campaigns.

Not to mention the fact that for as well as the Penguins have played during the regular season, there is still no reason to believe that they are anything but a third-period, Game 7, nail-biting victory better than the other three teams currently in the East Division playoff bracket (the Islanders, Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins).

Similarly, I would assume whichever two playoff teams face each other instead of getting the Penguins, that series will also come down to the last five minutes of a Game 7. That's how close I see the teams in the East right now.

Just as I did in January.

So, pardon me for failing to get my hopes up beyond the end of the regular season. To quote Pens play-by-play man Mike Lange, "I've seen this fish before."

And I wish I could've thrown it back in the playoff bubble last year and off the shore of Long Island the year before that.

I'll enjoy the rest of this regular season. And I'll watch with keen interest how Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Tanev are woven back into the mix and whoever else gets hurt between now and the end of the season. Then I'll make my playoff prediction.

But for as great as the Penguins have been so far in 2021, I don't see my personal confidence meter tilting with as much gusto as my appreciation is pronounced for what the Penguins have accomplished the first four months of the season.

Brian Metzer of the Penguins Radio Network guides me through my internal conflict in this week's hockey podcast. We also kick around line combinations if/when Sullivan's lineup card is completely full. We talk about the Bruins' state of affairs as they get ready for Game 2 of their series against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night. We break down early results from the Jeff Carter trade. And we discuss the likelihood of NHL hockey on TNT.


Listen: Tim Benz and Brian Metzer discuss the Penguins in first place and look ahead to the NHL playoffs

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.