Penguins Bring Down Flyers, 4-2, Back in Playoff Spot
The issue is not whether the Pittsburgh Penguins have control over whether they qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
The question is whether they have the talent and intangibles that will be required to secure the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field.
Or, for that matter, the first.
Getting the No. 1 wild card became viable again Sunday, when the Penguins defeated Philadelphia, 4-2, at PPG Paints Arena while the New York Islanders were losing, 2-1, at Carolina.
Those results mean the Penguins, who moved back in front of Florida by one point for the second wild card, trail the Islanders, who hold the first, by only one point. They also have a game in hand on New York.
In many seasons, sweeping a season series from the arch-rival Flyers would be a cause for civic celebration; this year, however, its major significance is the impact the last of those three games had on the Penguins’ playoff prospects.
If the Penguins got any sort of emotional lift from the pregame ceremony honoring Kris Letang for playing his 1,000th game in the NHL, it wasn’t evident in their play, as Philadelphia recorded the first four shots.
Flyers center Morgan Frost had the first high-quality chance for either team, but Casey DeSmith stopped his shot from the left hash mark during a 2-on-1 7 1/2 minutes into the opening period.
Despite their sluggish start, the Penguins grabbed a 1-0 lead at 11:40, on a shot that didn’t come close to being on goal.
Rickard Rakell drove a shot that sailed well over the net, but caromed off the glass and struck Flyers goalie Samuel Ersson in the back before dropping over the goal line.
The goal — Rakell’s 26th of the season and first of the period — netted assists for Brian Dumoulin and Evgeni Malkin.
Rakell struck again — this time, in more conventional fashion — during a power play at 14:53, as he swept a Malkin feed past Ersson from between the hash marks to make it 2-0.
It was Rakell’s career-best 10th power-play goal of the season; Sidney Crosby picked up the second assist.
DeSmith preserved the Penguins’ two-goal advantage with a sensational stop on Travis Konecny from the right side at 16:55. Rust gloved Konecny’s shot at the right post and a video review determined that the puck did not cross the goal line after DeSmith snared it.
Ersson kept the Flyers within two by denying Malkin from inside the right circle during a 2-on-1 with Jason Zucker 5 1/2 minutes into the second, and DeSmith countered with a stop on Kevin Hayes from inside the left circle at 6:51.
Bryan Rust, who scored twice in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 loss to Boston Saturday, had a chance to put them up, 3-0, but Flyers defenseman Justin Braun chased him down and did not allow Rust to get off a shot.
Rust, playing in his 500th NHL game, got another opportunity to score a few minutes later and made the most of it, as he took a feed from Crosby before flipping a backhander by Ersson at 13:23 for his 19th. Jeff Petry received the second assist.
Crosby’s assist was his 124th career point against Philadelphia, tying Mario Lemieux’s record for the most points by any Flyers opponent.
The Flyers finally got a puck by DeSmith at 16:58, but the apparent goal was waved off immediately because Philadelphia forward Joel Farabee backed into DeSmith while he was trying to make the save.
The Penguins killed Malkin’s fourth minor of the game early in the third — he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at 1:49, with a game misconduct tacked on — but the Flyers spoiled DeSmith’s shutout bid a few minutes later.
Rugged winger Nicolas Deslauriers — he’s the one Marcus Pettersson fought in November — scored from directly in front of the crease at 5:57 to make it 3-1 and Konecny got the Flyers to within one by beating DeSmith from the right hash at 17:31.
However, Ryan Poehling snuffed the comeback by scoring into an empty net at 18:48.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will not practice Monday, but will travel to New Jersey for their game against the Devils Tuesday in Newark at 7:08 p.m.