Penguins are a special part of playoff picture

This time of year is special for sports fans.

We’re a few weeks into the new baseball season, and the Pirates have gotten off to a decent start.

On Sunday night, Baylor stopped Notre Dame 82-81 to win the NCAA women’s basketball title, while on Monday night, Virginia topped Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime to claim the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

And that’s just for starters.

Today the attention of the golf world will be directed at the Augusta National Golf Club for the 83rd edition of the Masters.

Later this month, the National Basketball Association playoffs will begin.

Near the end of April, we’ll get the chance to experience the National Football League draft.

On May 4, we’ll look south once again, this time to Louisville, Ky., and Churchill Downs for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. It’s the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, which will include stops at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course on May 18 for the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., on June 8 for the Belmont Stakes.

And then on May 26, we’ll look west, this time to Indianapolis, for the annual running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500. Earlier that day, race fans will have had the chance to watch the Formula 1 cars race in Monaco, and later that day they will gather to watch NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in the Charlotte, N.C., suburb of Concord.

But before we get to those events, we’ll welcome the opening of the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s a grueling two-month tournament, made up of several best-of-seven series. To claim the Cup in June, a team will have to win 16 games — and lose no more than 12.

It’s a challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins have several times proven themselves up to.

Last night when they opened their first-round series against the New York it will marked their 13th-straight trip to the playoffs. The Pens enter the post-season in a good position, with goaltender Matt Murray having demonstrated he’s capable of being the workhorse that’s needed during the next couple of months.

Plus, captain Sidney Crosby has demonstrated once again why he remains the top player in the NHL. He’s gotten a lot of help from his teammates, including Jake Guentzel, Nick Bjukstad and Jared McCann, among others.

There’s a twist on the series — the Islanders are coached by Barry Trotz, who last year guided Washington to the title and prevented the Penguins from winning their third consecutive Stanley Cup, and fifth overall.

Playoff time is special across the region. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the games, whether we’re sitting in PPG Paints Arena, watching the games on TV or enjoying spring weather by gathering in front of Mario’s TV, the big screen that will be set up at the corner of Centre Avenue and Logan Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

We can’t know for sure how the Stanley Cup playoffs will end, but we can safely expect to be able to say “Let’s go Pens” many times during the next few months