Penguins Insider Lists 4 Reasons For Team's Dramatic Playoff Push

On March 8th, at the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins were eight points back of a playoff spot, and clearly decided that this season might be a lost cause, dealing star forward Jake Guentzel to start the process of making the team younger for the future. 

Since then, a strange thing happened on the way to the offseason: The Penguins caught new life, and have the 4th-most points in the Eastern Conference in the four weeks since, heading into Friday night, putting them within two points of a playoff spot, with six games to play. 

So what happened? 

Penguins beat writer Dan Kingerski writes in Pittsburgh Hockey Now that there are four determining factors that have keyed the turnaround (aside from the obvious in  Sidney Crosby leading the way):

1. Pierre-Oliver Joseph "has produced the best hockey of his career," writes Kingerski. Joseph's work in the top-four on defense with Kris Letang has been a huge improvement over Ryan Graves, and it's made a "significant" difference. 

2. Winning the 'Net Front' battles: Michael Bunting's addition (acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Guentzel trade) provides grit to the second line, and Bryan Rust has done the same alongside Crosby on the top line. 

3. The arrival of Jack (John) St. Ivany eight games ago has added a key defensive presence to the blueline on the third pairing that, Kingerski says, was missing. He keeps the front of the net clear.

4. "Desperation" and starting to taste the playoffs: 

“I think, without a doubt, (getting close in the standings) has an inspirational effect," said head coach Mike Sullivan. "To know we have a legitimate chance — We can say all along, ‘just keep going, keep going. Anything can happen.’ But when it’s tangible, it’s right in front of you, I think that gets the guys excited. I give the players a lot of credit. We’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

It doesn't get any easier down the stretch, however, as the Pens have some tough matchups still on the docket, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. Then they wrap it up in Game 82 with what could be the biggest game of the year, against the NY Islanders — one of the teams they're trying to catch for that final playoff berth.  

Photo: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports