The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And so the Pittsburgh Penguins and Penguins fans found themselves in an awkward position on Saturday night. After the Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres 1-0 in regulation on Saturday afternoon, the Penguins needed a little bit of help from the Philadelphia Flyers to win the MassMutual East Division.
If the Flyers beat Washington Capitals or took them to overtime, the Penguins would win the division and the important first seed in the East Division.
And Philadelphia did just enough. The Flyers held Washington scoreless for 59 minutes. Washington tied the game with 39 seconds remaining but could not get the regulation winner.
The Penguins were watching. After the Penguins beat Buffalo, Mike Sullivan said:
“Well, we wanted to gain home-ice advantage, and we were thrilled that we were able to do that. Having said that, we know we’re going to get a difficult opponent. All the teams that advance are really good hockey teams. We know we’re going to get a difficult opponent. We’ll watch the games, but we’re more focused on our team, quite honestly, and trying to make sure that that we put our best game on the ice.”
Also on Saturday night, the Penguins (or most) received their second COVID vaccination shot and will be a “fully vaccinated team” in 14 days.
The Penguins finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 37-16-3 record, good for 77 points. The Penguins .688 points percentage this year is the third-best in team history.
Washington won in OT, 2-1 but even if Washington beats the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, the Penguins will win the ROW tiebreaker.
So, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the East Division and will forever be the ONLY MassMutual East Division champion because the league will revert to the Metropolitan Division next season.
Washington was without five of their top scorers. Alex Ovechkin is still nursing a lower-body injury. Top-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov is currently in the COVID protocol for the second time this season. T.J Oshie was injured in the second period against the Flyers. Defenseman John Carlson and center Nicklas Backstrom are out with lower-body injuries.
Washington also started third-string goalie, 39-year-old Craig Anderson.
The Flyers also continued their recent spirited play. They split with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the week and beat Washington 4-2 on Friday.
Despite the Penguins winning the division crown for the first time since 2013-14, the East Division seedings are not yet settled.
Boston lost to the New York Rangers on Saturday, 5-4, and missed their chance to lock up at least third place. Boston is three points ahead of the New York Islanders and four behind Washington for second place.
UPDATE: Washington locked up second place with the comeback win. PHN changed our original headline to reflect the updated situation.
|TEAM||POINTS||Games Remaining||REGULATION WINS||ROW|
|New York Islanders||68||2||23||27|
The NHL has not yet set the playoff schedule. The final regular-season game is May 19 because of the COVID outbreak, which hit the Vancouver Canucks organization and paused their season. However, the NHL may begin the playoffs before the end of the Canucks season for scheduling and TV purposes.
It has been a unique 56-game season with multiple-game sets to reduce travel, reworked divisions because Canadian teams couldn’t cross the border into the U.S. (and vice versa). And it ended, at least in Pittsburgh, with Penguins fans cheering for the Philadelphia Flyers.
A strange season, indeed.