By: Casey Shea

The regular season has come to a close and the Penguins came up just short in the race for the Atlantic Division crown.

Believe me, I am not complaining one bit about finishing in a first-place tie with the Philadelphia Flyers with 106 points.

Think about everything that happened this season and then look at that point total again.

No Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the better part of three months? It wasn’t just any three months either. It was the second half of the season and stretch drive where points in the standings became more valuable than gold.

Several other role players went down for periods of time and yet the team finished with 106 points.

With 82 regular season games in the books, it’s now time to turn our attention to the playoffs.

It’s that magical time of year where everything becomes superstitious, including facial hair.

There are always one or two guys competing in the Stanley Cup Finals who have some of the greatest beards of all-time.

In 2009, Max Talbot and Bill Guerin looked more like Grizzly Adams than hockey players. One broadcaster even went so far as to say Talbot’s beard looked line a chinchilla.

It’s also the time of year that my wife loves to hate.

How she puts up with me outside of the playoffs is beyond me. As for putting up with me during the playoffs, she should be nominated for sainthood.

I become completely neurotic during the playoffs. I’m guessing it stems from my time as a goaltender during my playing days, but it affects every aspect of my life.

From the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep, I’m constantly tweaking my routine so that it appeases the hockey gods. It’s all done in the hopes that they might smile upon the Penguins.

If the Penguins win their game, I chart out the whole day in my head so that I can repeat it on the next game day.

I go over every possible detail to make sure everything is in order, even down to which way the shampoo bottle was facing when I got out of the shower. I know that none of this ultimately affects the outcome of a game, but it almost brings a sense of calmness to the situation.

Some people eat the same meal or sit in the same place during games when the team wins. That’s all well and good and I applaud the effort.

However, there have been times when the team has lost a playoff game and I will blame it on hitting a red light during my commute home at a particular intersection.

I’m not even joking. It’s that bad.

During the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, my wife watched Games 1, 2 and 5 with me. As we all know, the Pens lost all three of those games.

She was at work for Games 3, 4 and 6, which the Pens won.

When it came time for Game 7, I was out of town and she was ready to stay home and watch the game. She even called me to ask if she could watch it.

I don’t need to tell you that I was emphatic in telling her to avoid television at all cost. She agreed and only asked that I call when the game was over so that she could watch the Penguins receive the Stanley Cup.

That may have been the best phone call I ever made. She couldn’t understand a single word I was trying to form, but got the general idea that it was safe to turn on the television again.

There’s probably a medical condition for this type of thing. It might be OCD or just plain paranoia, but it’s the best time of year to be a hockey fan.

The pit in your stomach for upwards of three months makes you feel both alive and as if certain death is only right around the corner. That much stress can’t be good for the body, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. It’s a three-month marathon through four best-of-seven series and a race to 16 wins. The first one to 16 lives on forever, while the other 15 teams fade away like dust in the wind.

There’s nothing quite like it. For the most part, games are played every other night and the only chance you get to breathe is if you can dispatch your foe in four or five games.

It’s a non-stop emotional roller coaster with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

For the NHL, this is the time of year where they gain fans. Playoff hockey is unlike anything in the regular season. The intensity level rises dramatically from the opening puck drop in Game 1 of the opening round. Each game becomes more and more important and one mistake could cost your team a chance at glory.

For Pittsburgh, the puck will drop on their 2011 quest to claim Lord Stanley’s Holy Grail on Wednesday.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mission 16W is officially upon us.

You can follow me on Twitter at

Check back tomorrow for a full breakdown of the first round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.


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