Fab 15; Penguins happy but not satisfied with playoff streak

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Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel (59) celebrates his overtime goal with left wing Jared McCann (19) and defenseman John Marino (6) during an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Washington. The Penguins won 5-4. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Mike Sullivan insisted the Pittsburgh Penguins would take a minute to enjoy clinching their 15th straight playoff berth, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports.

Not really.

The postgame routine following Thursday night's 5-4 overtime win against Washington that assured the Penguins of a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup went much like the postgame routine of the 32 victories this season that came before it. A quick talk from Sullivan. A brief moment to exhale. And that was it.

“I’m proud of the group for working as hard as they have to solidify a playoff spot, but certainly that’s not where it ends,” Sullivan said Friday. “This is where the real fun starts.”

It's the kind of “fun” in which the Penguins have become a fixture for a decade and a half. The kind of “fun” that will serve as the ultimate arbiter on how 2021 is judged. The kind of “fun” Pittsburgh seems ready for despite a series of injuries to high-profile players that have thrust unlikely contributors briefly into the spotlight.

Thirty different players have recorded at least one point for the Penguins this season. Twenty-five have scored a goal, including players like fourth-line forward Frederick Gaudreau, who picked up the fifth of his career in the victory over the Capitals that thrust Pittsburgh into a tie for first place in the hotly contested East Division.

The Penguins are in the mix with five games to go, even with star center Evgeni Malkin out since mid-March with a lower-body injury. Malkin's absence is one of several to high-profile players that have forced Sullivan to get creative putting together his lineups. Yet nearly everyone who has made it over the boards and onto the ice has found a way to contribute.

Rookie defenseman Pierre Olivier-Joseph was a revelation when the 21-year-old found himself pressed into action after injuries devastated the blue line in January. Undrafted forward Radim Zohorna — all 6-feet-6 of him — joined the likes of Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux when he found the back of the net on his first NHL shot in a victory over Buffalo last month.