The Pittsburgh Penguins qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 15th straight season but said there is more to be done.
“By no means are any of us satisfied,” coach Mike Sullivan said after a 5-4 overtime win against the Washington Capitals on Thursday. “We understand that there’s a lot of work to do here. But we’re going to take a deep breath tonight and just enjoy it.”
The win clinched the berth for the Penguins, who own the longest active streak of reaching the postseason among teams in the four major North American professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA). The 15 straight seasons is a Penguins record.
It is the 11th time an NHL team has made at least 15 consecutive trips to the postseason and is the longest run since the Detroit Red Wings qualified for the last of their 25 straight appearances in 2016.
Centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang are the only players remaining from when the streak began in 2006-07. Crosby was in his second season, and Malkin and Letang were rookies. In the 15 seasons, Pittsburgh has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009. 2016, 2017).
The Penguins (33-15-3) reached the playoffs without having Malkin in the lineup the past 22 games. They are 15-5-2 without their second-line center, whose status is uncertain for the second of the two-game set at Washington on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, NBCSWA, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).
“If you’re on the ice with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, or Kris Letang, you don’t want to let them down,” defenseman Mike Matheson said. “Not because they’re going to yell at you or anything like that. They’re not [those] type of [guys], but they make you raise your level to catch up to them. I think our leadership is the biggest reason for that.”
Forwards Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are the only Penguins who have not missed a game this season.
“Our leadership does a great job of handling that,” Matheson said. “Our main guys that have been our leaders for a long time are so good at making sure that everybody that comes into the lineup knows that they’re there for a reason and that they’re there to contribute. So I think everybody coming in feels comfortable knowing that and wants to do their best. “
Pittsburgh is tied with Washington for first in the eight-team MassMutual East Division. The Capitals, who also clinched a berth Thursday, have played one fewer game.
“This is our 15th year in a row making the playoffs,” goalie Tristan Jarry said. “I think that’s a huge accomplishment for Pittsburgh. It says a lot about the city and the teams that have been put together here. I think it’s great. Obviously, it’s exciting for us to be in the playoffs again. I think now it’s just trying to get in the best position possible.”
The Penguins have won one playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2017.
“It’s a start,” Guentzel said. “It’s what we wanted to do at the beginning of the year, to get in the playoffs. Our division is tough. So got our first step there. Now we’ve just got to keep grinding these last five games to see where we can end up in the division here.”