Pens’ games finally mean something

PITTSBURGH – The 82-game exhibition schedule is finally over.

The National Hockey League gets down to the business of deciding who wins the 2013-14 season as the Stanley Cup playoffs open.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will find out if they can get to the Final for the first time since 2009, which will probably go a long way toward determining whether Dan Bylsma will be conducting training camp in September.

The stakes are high, and the first-round match-up is favorable for the Penguins.

They’ve drawn the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose postseason inexperience will be countered by their just-happy-to-be-there-nothing-to-lose attitude. No one expects the Blue Jackets to knock off the Penguins, so they certainly aren’t burdened by expectations.

The Penguins, on the other hand, will disappoint if they don’t at least reach the Cup Final. For a long time, that was considered almost automatic because the Eastern Conference wasn’t especially strong.

But there are two possible series that would be uncomfortable for the Penguins – Boston because the Bruins are clearly the best team in the conference, and Philadelphia just because the Flyers have a knack for getting into the Penguins’ heads and forcing mistakes.

Those teams represent the two biggest obstacles as the Penguins attempt to go deep into the postseason.

Pittsburgh won two rounds last spring, only to have it all come undone with a terrible series against Boston that led to a four-game sweep.

That can’t happen this year.

The Penguins will be presented with challenges, but this opening series against Columbus doesn’t look like it will be one of them.

The pick here is the Penguins in five games.

New and improved

Former boxing champion Mike Tyson is in town for a number of promotional appearances that will include a one-hour radio interview.

It wasn’t that many years ago when Tyson was portrayed as a borderline sociopath, a dangerous character who didn’t confine his violence to the ring.

He did prison time for a middle-of-the-night hotel encounter with a beauty pageant contestant and his marriage to actress Robin Givens played out in the tabloids.

Those days are apparently in the past now.

The name’s the same

Former major league catcher Hal Smith died over the weekend at 82.

But this is not the Hal Smith who was a member of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates who won the World Series. That Hal Smith is alive at age 83.

Mehno can be reached at