Going into this NHL season, more than one prognosticator picked the Penguins and St. Louis Blues to meet in the Stanley Cup final.
So a 1-0 Blues win Sunday against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center could have been a preview of what is to come in June.
"That's too far ahead right now," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said, but he still allowed himself a peek into a possible future meeting if the Penguins escape the Eastern Conference and St. Louis comes out of the Western Conference in the postseason.
"If the last couple of games are any indication of the way the teams would match up in the playoffs, I think it's pretty physical," Crosby said.
St. Louis swept the two-game season series, which included a 2-1 win Nov. 9 at Scottrade Center. Both were tight, physical, one-goal games.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury absorbed both losses despite stopping 56 of 59 shots over the two games. His take on a potential meeting in the final was along the lines of, bring it on.
"I like how it was played," he said of Sunday when asked about a potential matchup in the Cup final. "You're a little bit more careful. It was hard-played."
Although the two teams from opposite conferences have met only eight times since Crosby entered the NHL, he said there already is a playoff-like snarl in the games.
"Both teams, for not playing each other [often], they don't seem to like each other too much," Crosby said. "Yeah, [a final] would be pretty intense."
Berth on doorstep
There was a scenario by which the Penguins could have clinched a playoff spot Sunday, but it involved not only what happened in a few other games but also the Penguins beating St. Louis.
It's pretty much inevitable that the Penguins, who have 97 points with 11 games remaining, will clinch a berth soon.
And it's pretty much a formality from their standpoint.
"I think we're more focused on how we're going to play the next [several] games before we get to the playoffs," Crosby said. "We're looking at [clinching], but we're judging ourselves and evaluating ourselves on making sure that we're playing a playoff style of game going into the playoffs. Hopefully, with that mentality, we'll get our points and clinch."
St. Louis clinched a playoff spot Saturday despite losing at Philadelphia.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma usually is reluctant to dress seven defensemen for a game, but he did just that.
One of them was Deryk Engelland, who has been deployed as a fourth-line winger at times this season. Against the Blues, he was part of a seven-man rotation at his natural position.
"We wanted the seven defensemen," Bylsma said, indicating that part of the reason was a busy day for the team's defensive corps a day earlier in a 4-3 overtime win against Tampa Bay.
The other reason was the opponent. The Blues play a "heavy" game, one that features physical play, including punishing forechecking.
"We went with the heaviest seven [defensemen] that we had," Bylsma said. "Deryk added a physical presence back there ... especially in the first period with [Brooks Orpik] against their heavier forechecking lines."
Winger Taylor Pyatt was a healthy scratch, leaving the Penguins to play with just 11 forwards. While their top two lines remained intact, the Penguins rotated personnel on the bottom two lines.
Winger Beau Bennett got an assist on the tying goal with 1:04 left in regulation in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's 3-2 overtime win against Albany. It was Bennett's only point in two games over the weekend with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate.
Bennett is on a conditioning assignment after being out since late November because of a hand/wrist injury. Bylsma said it had not been determined whether Bennett will remain with Wilkes-Barre for a third game. If so, that would be Wednesday against Providence.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.