Battle in the Atlantic...
The final game at home for the Penguins proved to be another strong showing. With one of the loudest crowds of the season, the Penguins took home ice for the last time in this inaugural regular season. The devils, once the biggest thorn in the penguin’s side, had been eliminated from the playoffs and yet still came to play. The game was fast and physical, perfect for the final match up of these Atlantic Division rivals.
The first period saw a strong start by New Jersey, but a few undisciplined penalties lead to a gorgeous Jordan Staal goal in which he took a cross ice pass, made a power move, and flipped the puck over Hedberg. It would be the only goal of the period. The assists would go to James Neal and Alex Kovalev, giving the Penguins the powerplay goal they have been searching for since early March. The second period saw the same style of game. It was tight checking and fast moving. The Devils had tied the game with a Steckle wrist shot at the fifteen minute mark. At the sixteen minute mark Pascal Dupuis backhanded a juicy rebound between Hedberg’s pads for the lead once again. The third period started strong for the Penguins. At 1:31 the new dad Chris Kunitz scored off of a great pass from Tyler Kennedy. The Devils would score one more off of a Brian Rolston blast from the tops of the circles; however, an empty net by Pascal Dupuis would seal the game for the Penguins.
The win now has the Penguins at 102 points. The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Sabres, which also bodes well for the Pens. Now the Penguins need just one more win to clinch a home playoff series in the first round. This is not the only good news for the Penguins as the Atlantic leading Flyers also lost last night to the Ottawa Senators. With just 6 wins in their last 19 the Flyers have hit a wall in their play. Pittsburgh now sits just one point back of the Flyers and with their two remaining games against the Thrashers and the Islanders, the Penguins have set their sights on the Division Title.
Philadelphia also has two games remaining, on their schedule rests the Islanders and the Sabres. If the Flyers slip up, the Penguins will be right there to steal their spot on the top of the Atlantic. The problems now rest with the matchups.
If the Penguins stay in their current spot, they will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. These two teams have split their season series 2 wins a piece, but with Tampa struggling to find any consistency, the Penguins should be able to take this series in anywhere from five to seven games. The Flyers will play the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers struggling play of late might pose a problem, but any betting man would have to go with the depth of talent on the Flyers squad.
While both match ups initially seem to favor the Atlantic, a switch in positioning could prove deadly for the Flyers. If the Penguins where to take the division, the Flyers would then move to fourth place and have to play the Tampa Bay Lightning. As many flyer fans can tell you, this is not one of their favorite teams to play against. The Lightning seems to be one of the very few teams in this league who can score at will on the Flyers. The other scenario would feature the Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres. Whether or not Ryan Miller is in net the Penguins would be the favorite in this match up. Not to discredit anything the Sabres have done as of late, or how good Ryan Miller is, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have had the Buffalo Sabres number for the past few years. Ryan Miller has quite pedestrian stats against the Penguins in his career and this matchup of a more physical Penguins squad does bode well for the Sabres.
With much still on the line for the Atlantic, the last two games for the Penguins and the Flyers are very crucial. If Philly slips again this week, they might lose the Atlantic. Pittsburgh has all but locked up the fourth spot, so it should be a no brainer to give it all and gun for a division title. As for the final Atlantic team in the playoffs, I hope the Rangers can at least hold on. For a team that is built around toughness and hard nose hockey, it hurts to have one of your most talented players go down. It was too great season for you and Head Coach John Tortorella, considering the injuries and all, to lose a playoff spot this late once again. Until next time thanks for reading.