Hot and not
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
Varlamov allowed three goals in 14 shots before being pulled after the first period of a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. He has lost four of his past five starts, allowing three goals in all five of those games.
Are the Pittsburgh Penguins ready to make a deep playoff run?
@ESPN_Burnside: What a weekend. Steven Stamkos is out for weeks with a blood clot. Patrick Kane hit the 100-point and 40-goal marks. The Blues lost another key piece in netminder Jake Allen. Boston continued to flirt with playoff disaster, and the Florida Panthers are back, baby, back in the postseason and looking like the Atlantic Division champs. For me, though, the news of the weekend was the Penguins' continued red-hot play. Despite losing netminder Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion (the timetable for his return remains unknown), the Pens blasted the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers on back-to-back days by a cumulative 11-2 score. They are 12-1 in their past 13 games and now look like a lock to open the playoffs next week at home, with a five-point bulge on the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Matt Murray, one of the American Hockey League's top netminders, stepped in for Fleury without missing a beat and won both ends of the back-to-backs on the weekend. So, what say you after a weekend of great import around the NHL? Are the Penguins ready for a long run even without their star netminder and star center Evgeni Malkin?
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: The Penguins are making a habit of scoring four or five goals per night during this run, turning back the clock to the early 1990s with this offensive display night after night -- without Malkin. Speaking of turning back the clock, how about Matt Cullen? He's piling up the points for Pittsburgh during this streak. Meanwhile, Nick Bonino has done a wonderful job of replacing Malkin on a line between Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin. But the concussion to Fleury, his second this season, certainly gives me pause. Murray is a highly rated prospect and part of the Team North America squad (also known as the Young Guns) in next fall's World Cup of Hockey, but I'm not sure how confident I am about him playing playoff games. Hopefully Fleury is ready to return for the postseason, because I would feel better about Pittsburgh's chances for a long playoff run if that happened.
@CraigCustance: Even without Murray's experience in goal, I'm starting to like Pittsburgh's chances more and more because of all the other things you pointed out, Pierre. I'm not giving up on the Lightning, but their road back to the Stanley Cup final just got much harder without Stamkos and Anton Stralman. No team in the wild-card range looks like a threat to make a run. Florida got in, but it also recently lost a key piece in Vincent Trocheck. The Penguins know how to survive injuries; they've done it for years. At this point, I'm ready to put the Penguins on par with the Rangers as the team most likely to upset the Washington Capitals and emerge from the East. They look great, and if they can get a break with the injury news, they'll be that much more dangerous.
Around the league
The Flyers are fighting with the Red Wings for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but goalie Michal Neuvirth looks like a long shot to return from injury before the end of the regular season.