Penguins Beat Rangers, Reclaim East

The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New York Rangers Sunday afternoon in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home series and reclaimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference from the Montreal Canadiens.  The Penguins win completed a 7-0 unbeaten record at home for the month of March, and was their 10th win in the last 13 games.  With 99-points the Penguins now lead the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Montreal, with both teams having just 3-games left in the season.  The Penguins need just 1-win in their remaining 3-games to clinch the Atlantic Division title.  If they can do it, it would be the first division title in 10-years for the franchise.  The Penguins last division title was in the Northeast Division in 1997-98. 

In the 1st period, the New York Rangers scored first on a power play tally by Brandon Dubinsky while Hal Gill sat for hooking.  Jaromir Jagr and Christian Backman were credited with assists on the play.  At 10:21, the Penguins evened it up on an even strength goal by Marian Hossa who showed no ill effects from the upper body injury sustained Thursday night against the Islanders.  Sidney Crosby moved the puck out from behind the net to Pascal Dupuis who was unable to get the shot off.  Dupuis kicked the puck back about 10′ to Hossa who snapped it past Henrik Lundqvist.  Then at 17:56 while on a 5-on-3 opportunity, Evgeni Malkin buried his 46th goal of the season with a wicked slap shot that flew over the right shoulder of a screened Lundqvist.  Sergei Gonchar and Sidney Crosby picked up the assists on Malkin’s goal.  The Penguins were outshot 7-6 in a very physical 1st period of play.  The Penguins were 1-for-3 on the power play and 0-for-1 on the penalty kill.   

In the 2nd period the Penguins were outshot 11-4, but Marc-Andre Fleury rose to the challenge and turned them all aside to keep the score notted 2-1 in favor of the Penguins.  The Penguins were unable to generate any chances on 3 powerplay attempts, but successfuly killed off two penalties of their own.  The Penguins got a scare late in the second when Evgeni Malkin fell along the boards and accidentally took Brandon Dubinsky’s skate blade across his face.  The play continued on and traveled to the Penguins defensive zone as Malkin lay on the ice behind the Rangers’ net.  He lingered there for a moment before getting up, removing his head gear and skating off to the locker room while holding his face.  It was reported that he required 10-stitches to close up a deep laceration on his cheek, near his eye.  He didn’t return in the 2nd period, but was back on the ice for the 3rd period.

In the 3rd period, the Penguins outshot the Rangers 10-9 and scored one more goal in the final minute of the game to seal the win.  Max Talbot collected a bobbled rebound off from a shot by Rob Scuderi and quickly beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist.  Jordan Staal picked up the other assist.  Lundqvist was never able to get off the ice for the man advantage.  The Penguins challenges on the power play continued in the 3rd as they were 0-for-3 on the man advantage.  They successfully killed off a cross-checking call to Kris Letang. 

Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa both looked phenomenal on the ice today with no apparent limitations to their game.  The combination of Hossa, Crosby and Dupuis was fun to watch and it seems likely that this line will be very hard to defend in the post-season.  Evgeni Malkin’s game-winning goal was his 104th point, 5-points behind Alexander Ovechkin for the league scoring title.  Malkin needs 4-goals in his final 3-games to break the 50-goal mark.  Marc-Andre Fleury continued his red hot play as he has gone 9-1 since returning from 3-months hiaitus on the injured reserve list with a high ankle sprain, including 2-shutouts.  He has given up just 12-goals in 10-games, with an amazing 0.955 save percentage and 1.2 GAA.   

The Penguins travel to New York to take on the Rangers again on Monday night, before hosting the Flyers at home on Wednesday and then closing out their regular season with a Flyers rematch in Philadelphia on Sunday.  The Penguins can clinch the Division title as soon as Monday, as they only need one win in their remaining 3 games to win the Atlantic Division.

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