Coming into the week the Penguins seemed poised to vault themselves ahead of the New York Rangers and take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. Things would not go so smoothly for the Penguins, however, as a supposedly easy home and home series against the lowly New York Islanders became a pair of back to back trap games for the Penguins, essentially sealing their fate in a Pittsburgh-Philadelphia playoff matchup. The turkey was most certainly on the table, but for this week at least it looked like the Penguins weren’t too hungry. Let’s take a look at how everything went down last week:
- Penguins v. Islanders (Tue, March 27) Penguins 3 – Islanders 5
Welcome to the trap-game. The Penguins were poised to take over top spot in the Conference on Tuesday night when they faced off at home against the Isles, but their 54 shots on goal weren’t enough to best the defenses of Nabokov and Montoya (who came in relief for an injured Nabby). Despite a whopping 17 shots in the opening period, the Penguins surrendered goals to Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner and trailed 2-0 after the opening twenty. Tyler Kennedy and James Neal would both add early second period tallies to even the score, but before the period was out the Islanders had scored three unanswered goals of their own (Okposo, Ullstrom, Nielsen) to take a 5-2 lead into the final frame. James Neal scored his second goal of the game (37) with just under 5 minutes to play, but it was too little too late as the Penguins fell 5-3 in a game they desperately needed to win. Fleury surrendered 5 goals on 18 shots before being relieved by Brad Thiessen, who stopped all 7 shots he faced. Pretty much puke from MAF but he is still a god, folks. Don’t worry about this guy one iota. Trap game v2 just around the corner.
- Penguins @ Islanders (Thurs, March 29) Penguins 3 – Islanders 5
If for some reason you were unable to watch the games last week and this is the only recap you’ve come across, this is not a type. I did not repost the previous description. The Penguins actually lost two 5-3 games to the Islanders back to back. Yes, Sidney Crosby didn’t have any points against the Islanders. No, the sky isn’t falling. Let’s look at the second of two games last week against the “lowly” New York Islanders: As was the case on Tuesday, the tale of the tape lies in a mediocre Marc-Andre Fleury as the main culprit for this loss. I’m not trying to load up on the guy or anything close to it, I just believe he may be getting worn down a bit from the insane workload he has been carrying all season. In any event, Marty Reasoner opened the scoring past the halfway point of the first period on a shot that MAF really should have stopped. Penguins trailed 1-0 going into the second period. Pascal Dupuis kept his NHL-best 12-game points streak alive with a shorthanded tally near the 9-minute mark of the second period to bring the Penguins even, but late in the period the Islanders took over. In the final 3:30 of the period the Islanders scored on the Powerplay (Okposo) and while shorthanded (Bailey) to take a convincing 3-1 lead into the third. Adding to their lead in the final period, Okposo scored near the 6-minute mark to extend the Isles lead to three before the Penguins got goals from Staal (24) and Malkin (47) to make things interesting in the final minutes. Josh Bailey would add an EN goal to cap off a 5-point night and seal the Islanders second consecutive 5-3 victory against the Penguins. Twilight zone level stuff, right here. What a missed opportunity for the mighty Penguins.
- Penguins @ Sabres (Fri, March 30) Penguins 5 – Sabres 3
Huge rebound game for the Penguins after laying a couple eggs against the Islanders earlier in the week. Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring with his 48th goal of the season, a new career-high. Sidney Crosby also scored in the first period (5) and the Sabres received goals from Leopold and Ennis in what was a relatively even-paced opening twenty minutes in Buffalo. In the second period, however, the Penguins seemed to take over the momentum. James Neal scored his 38th goal of the season and Sullivan (15) also tallied to give the Penguins a two-goal advantage with 5 minutes and change left in the second period. Tomas Vanek would score a huge goal less than two minutes later to bring the Sabres back within one before the second intermission. Despite 20 combined shots in the final period, neither team was able to break through the defenses of Ryan Miller / Brent Johnson until the Sabres pulled their keeper in a last ditch effort to tie the score late. Staal scored into the EN (25) to cement the Penguins 5-3 victory over the Sabres, a very welcome return to the ‘W’ column for the Pens.
- Penguins v. Flyers (Sun, April 1) Penguins 4 – Flyers 6
I don’t really know what to say about this game aside from that if you haven’t already seen the game or watched highlights, then you need to go and do so immediately. This game was filled with everything we love about hockey: supreme skill, hard physical play, playoff-level intensity, and Texas-sized fisticuffs to top everything off. The Penguins opened the game with a 2-0 lead on goals from Sullivan (16) and James Neal (39), but by the time third period rolled around the Flyers had evened up on goals from Giroux and Max Talbot (Penguin killer, apparently). Philly exploded for three unanswered goals in the third period, and the game basically got out of hand. When I say the game got out of hand, I mean it got really out of hand. 52 PIM were doled out by the referees in the final minute alone, all while Peter Laviolette and Tony Granato nearly came to blows after the Flyers’ coach became upset at Joe Vitale’s blasting of Danny Briere. Both coaches were fined by the NHL earlier this week, and deservedly so. One thing is clear after Sunday’s game: the Penguins and the Flyers hate eachother in a next-level kind of way. The kind of hate you reserve for your most sworn enemy is what we are about to see in a 7-game playoff series starting in roughly a week from today. How could you not be excited about that? Go Pens.
The Penguins are in Boston tonight to face off against the Northeast Division champion Bruins in what could be a very important game for final playoff seeding. Afterward, the team comes home for two division games against the Rangers (Thursday) and the “beloved” Philadelphia Flyers (Saturday) on the final day of the regular season. I almost hope that one of the teams has home-ice advantage locked up by then, as I really don’t like the idea of these teams going after each other in what could become a total bloodbath, at least until the playoffs start. Ideally, the Penguins would clinch home-ice and then be able to sit Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Neal etc. against the Flyers on Saturday. The Penguins have a tough week ahead of them on the sked, and they probably need to win 2/3 in order to clinch home-ice for the first round. Let’s all hope one of those wins comes tonight in Boston.
Let’s do it. Go Pens.