Penguins Beat Flyers, Win Division Title

CONGRATULATIONS PITTSBURGH PENGUINS!

ATLANTIC DIVISION CHAMPIONS!

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-2 on Wednesday night to clinch the Division title for the first time in 10-years.  In an intense playoff-style game, the Penguins punished the Flyers special teams as all 4-Penguins goals came on the power play.  Marc-Andre Fleury was fabulous in net as he stopped 27-of-29 shots, including some tremendous saves in the 3rd period to maintain a thin 1-goal lead.  Sidney Crosby (2G, 1A) and Sergei Gonchar (1G, 2A) each had 3-points and Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1A) added 2-points.  There were over 50-hits recorded between the 2-teams tonight who will meet once more in the regular season on Sunday, and possibly in the first round of the playoffs. 

In the 1st period, it didn’t take long for the tone to be set as Riley Cote challenged Georges Laraque to a fight at 2:22.  Cote got a quick one in on Laraque before Laraque let loose with repeated lefts to Cote’s head, one of which sent Riley’s helmet flying to the ice.  The momentum from the fight appeared to favor the Flyers as they got on the board first with an even strength goal by Scott Hartnell, his 24th of the season.  Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal picked up the assists on the play at 8:58.  The Penguins quickly struck back on the power play at 10:24 as Sergei Gonchar notched his 12th goal of the season on a blast from near the blueline.  Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby assisted on the play to tie it at 1-1.  At 13:13, the Flyers regained the lead on Jeff Carter’s 29th goal of the season as Hal Gill sat for tripping.  Immediately after the goal went in, Brooks Orpik and Joffrey Lupul went for a quick, uneventful dance and sat for 5-minutes as a result.  Midway through the period, Sidney Crosby nearly had his head taken off on a cheap shot (to the head) by Scott Hartnell after a scrum in front of the Flyers net.  Nothing was called on the play, but Sergei Gonchar took Hartnell’s number for future reference (see 2nd period).  The Flyers outshot the Penguins 9-8 in the 1st.  The Penguins were 1-for-1 on the power play and 0-for-1 on the penalty kill. 

Early in the 2nd period, Sergei Gonchar put a clean, heavy hit on Scott Hartnell in the Penguins offensive zone before chasing the puck back into his own defensive zone behind the Penguins net.  As Gonchar went to play the puck behind his net, Hartnell came flying in to put a retaliatory hit on him.  At the last minute, Gonchar lifted the butt end of his stick up to protect himself and caught Hartnell squarely on the nose.  Nothing was called on the play, as Hartnell skated back to the bench with a badly cut nose.  It appeared as if a Penalty should have been called, but the refs either missed it or let it go after realizing they didn’t call Hartnell on the cheap shot to Crosby’s head in the first.  Hartnell only seemed emboldened by the play as he came out at 6:07 and again took a cheap shot to Crosby’s face.  This time, the refs saw it and penalized him for charging.  At the same time, Braydon Coburn was called by the other ref for holding on Malkin.  The Penguins did a great job of sticking up for each other without drawing a penalty of their own.  As a result, the Penguins ended up with a 2-minute 5-on-3 opportunity.  Just 19-seconds into the power play, Sidney Crosby one-timed a cross-ice pass from Sergei Gonchar and easily beat Martin Biron.  Marian Hossa got the other assist on the play, which tied the game at 2-2 and was the best response to the headhunting of Scott Hartnell.  At 14:33, Evgeni Malkin picked up the puck from Ryan Whitney on a broken play at the Flyers’ blueline and beat Martin Biron 5-hole for his 47th of the season, a power play goal.  Malkin’s goal gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead through 2-periods.  The Penguins outshot the Flyers 15-8 in the period and were 2-for-2 on the power play. 

In the 3rd period, the Flyers came on strong looking to score the equalizer as they outshot the Penguins 12-6, but Marc-Andre Fleury was equal to the task and stoned them on several quality chances.  At 18:26, while on the powerplay, Sidney Crosby picked up his 2nd goal of the night and 24th of the season on a beautiful redirect between his legs of a Sergei Gonchar shot to put the game out of reach for the Flyers.  Marian Hossa had the other assist on the play.  Despite 1:21 of empty net time, the Penguins weren’t able to put one into the open cage.  At the end of the game it was announced that the win clinched the Atlantic Division Title for the Penguins, setting off thunderous cheers of appreciation from the crowd.  The Penguins last division title was in the Northeast Division in 1997-98. 

Evgeni Malkin’s 2-points draws him within 4-points (106) of the NHL Scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin (110).  With 2-games remaining for Ovechkin and 1-for Malkin, Ovechkin appears poised to win the scoring title.  Prior to the game, Malkin was fittingly named the team’s Most Valuable Player for the season.  Sergei Gonchar’s 3-points draws him with 1-point of the NHL’s defenseman scoring leader Niklas Lidstrom. 

The Penguins head to Philadelphia on Sunday to close out the regular season, where a win would clinch the Eastern Conference Title.  The Montreal Canadiens are the only team that could unseat the Penguins claim to the Eastern Conference Title, but their chances are diminishing.  The Canadiens have 2-games remaining and trail the Penguins by 2-points.  The Canadiens would need to win both games and have the Penguins lose (in regulation or overtime) to retake the Eastern Conference lead.  The only other possibility for the Canadiens to unseat the Penguins would be for the Canadiens to win and get an overtime loss, and have the Penguins lose in regulation on Sunday.  The Penguins have the advantage in wins should the teams end in a points tie.

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