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Bylsma credited for reviving Penguins' fortunes

THE Pittsburgh Penguins must be wondering if an entire team is eligible for the NHL comeback player of the year award.

The Penguins were one more losing streak away from being out of playoff contention when Dan Bylsma took over as interim coach from Michel Therrien on February 15. Last season's Stanley Cup finalists barely had a winning record and were stuck in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins had two exceptional scorers in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby but not much else - no locker room chemistry, no resiliency, no reliable goaltending and not much of a power play.

What followed Bylsma's hiring was one of the NHL's most remarkable turnarounds in recent seasons, 16 wins in 23 games that have carried the Penguins into the postseason for a third consecutive season. It also has stamped them as an opponent not many teams would choose when the playoffs begin next week.

"It saved the season," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said of the decision to get Bylsma, a studious former NHL player who has written books about coaching but lacked NHL head coaching experience.

The Penguins guaranteed themselves a seeding of no lower than seventh in the conference playoffs by beating Tampa Bay 6-4 on Tuesday, the 17th game in the last 19 in which they've gained at least one point. With two games remaining, the Penguins could finish as high as fourth in the conference.

"We've kind of been running a sprint for the last month and a half, two months, and now we have to get ready for the playoffs," Bylsma said.

"The last two games are important in how we want to play as a team, and getting sharp and ready for the playoffs ... to get refocused for an up level of intensity and emotions."

That shouldn't be a problem. The Penguins have been playing must-win games - and have won most of them - since mid-February.

To accomplish that, Bylsma changed styles, abandoning Therrien's disciplined, defense-first system for one designed to constantly pressure the puck, an approach that creates more risks but emphasizes the Penguins' vast offensive skills.


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