- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The statistics are gaudy.

And if the Pittsburgh Penguins can’t find a way to extend their season into the final days of spring, ultimately forgettable.

The same team that led the NHL in man games lost due to injury (more than 500) also earned 109 points, led the Metropolitan Division from mid-October on and received another peerless effort from star Sidney Crosby, who topped the league with 104 points and is a near lock for the second MVP award of his career.

The Penguins have been excellent, and yet they are well aware the only thing that matters is what happens when they host upstart Columbus on Wednesday night in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about winning games and going on,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have that opportunity right now.”

One that comes only after six relentless months in which they stacked up win after win regardless of who was in the lineup.

Defenseman Kris Letang missed more than half the season with a series of injuries, including more than two months following a stroke.

Evgeni Malkin sat out a quarter of the season with bumps and bruises. Top line winger Pascal Dupuis was knocked out in December with a torn ACL that left Bylsma searching for a new security blanket for Crosby.

The list goes on and on. Brooks Orpik, James Neal and Paul Martin also missed significant time. Backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun didn’t play after being diagnosed with blood clots during training camp.

Yet Pittsburgh chugged along, showcasing the organization’s depth and Bylsma’s ability to push the right buttons in the dressing room. As impressive as it was, Bylsma understands it’s meaningless if the journey doesn’t end with Crosby hoisting the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup in mid-June.

“You can talk about the number of wins, the number of points, ranks in Penguin history but really, that (just) gives us our spot in the playoffs,” Bylsma said.

One that comes with enormous pressure. The Penguins were swept out of the Eastern Conference finals last spring by Boston.

Rather than make significant changes after a fourth straight season ended short of the Cup finals, Pittsburgh doubled down. Bylsma received a contract extension while the team signed Malkin and Letang to long-term deals.

The decision to keep the core together resulted in another sublime regular season, one in which Bylsma insists the Penguins have learned they can’t just rely on their world class scorers to get by.

“We’ve found ways to win and I think we improved on our mentality in playing defense and how we play defense,” he said. “I think we’ve done a better job of being able to shut teams down and limit opportunities. Now you have to do that in the playoffs.”

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