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Penguins outlast Panthers in shootout, make it eight straight

Chris Kunitz

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Chris Kunitz, bottom, collides with Florida Panthers’ Mike Weaver during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


Pittsburgh Penguins fans are salivating over the concept of Sidney Crosby coming back, but don’t be surprised if there’s at least an undercurrent of hesitation about ruining what they have going right now.

The Pens won their eight consecutive game after edging the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout tonight.

While many are wondering what kind of damage the current build of the team + Crosby could produce in the playoffs, the more immediate future is getting more interesting. With this win, Pittsburgh is just four points behind the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead after the Rangers lost 4-3 in regulation to the Chicago Blackhawks.

That loss provides a rather interesting proposition. The Penguins have two more games left against the Rangers this season, so if they beat them in regulation both times, the teams who essentially be tied.

Sure, the Rangers would hold tiebreaker advantages in wins (42 to 41) and especially regulation/OT victories (39 to 32), but their seemingly ironclad lead could dissolve if the two teams continue moving in opposite directions.

With the changing scenario in mind, Pittsburgh has a very real chance to go from “dangerous team with perhaps just one round of home ice advantage” to possibly the first seed in the East. With or without Crosby, the Penguins’ outlook is rapidly getting more ambitious - to the point that some might be nervous about them losing a step while their captain makes his way back.