It was once again an evening of statement games in the Atlantic Division last night, with every team but the New York Rangers playing a game. Many of the contests were quite dramatic, but none more so than the Penguins 8-4 drubbing of the Winnipeg Jets.
Though Pittsburgh got off to a sluggish start, spotting the visiting Jets a 2-1 lead through the first 12:51 of the first period, the game was very much all Pittsburgh the rest of the way.
The Penguins were led by Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and James Neal, who combined for 13 points. Malkin did the most of the damage to the Jets, managing two goals, three assists, and seven shots. But just as influential on the ice was Sidney Crosby, who played 19:08 and looked dominant every time he touched the puck. He helped open the scoring with a nifty pass from behind the net to Tyler Kennedy two minutes into the first and also figured into what would eventually be the game-winning goal. When all was said and done, 11 different players managed at least one point, with five having multi-point games.
Not wanting to be outdone by Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders throttled the Toronto Maple Leafs in quite a dramatic fashion as well, beating them 5-2 and outshooting the Leafs 34-14. Headed into Toronto tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the worst record in the East, the Islanders took advantage of a reeling Maple Leafs squad, who had lost 8-0 to the Boston Bruins the evening before. The Islanders’ top line of Matt Moulson–John Tavares-P.A. Parenteau continued to be dominant, combining for three goals and five points and providing all the scoring the Islanders would need, though they also got goals from Josh Bailey and rookie David Ullstrom.
While the Penguins and Islanders were filling the net last night, the New Jersey Devils beat the Senators 1-0 in what could very well be a first-round playoff preview. With both teams battling for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, the game was filled with tight, physical play and great goaltending. Both teams traded numerous scoring chances throughout, each finishing with 34 shots on net. The difference, however, would be Ilya Kovalchuk’s power play goal at 17:20 of the second period. The shutout performance of backup Johan Hedberg, who earned his fourth shutout of the season for the Devils, was the other key to the Devils’ hard-fought win.
The Flyers also played in a low-scoring affair last night, losing in regulation to the Florida Panthers 2-1, though it was not for a lack of effort on the part of the Flyers.
The Flyers did a lot of things right, peppering the Panthers net regularly with shots, and playing an exceptionally disciplined game, taking only two minor penalties the entire game. One minor penalty would prove to be too many as the Panthers would capitalize on their first power play opportunity at 6:23 in the second off a Sean Bergenheim wrist shot. From that point on, the Panthers held on for dear life, as the Flyers assaulted their net with shots, outshooting them 36-13, including a third period where they outshot the Panthers 12-3. Florida managed to squeak out with the win, however, and moved back into the Southeast Division lead. The Flyers, meanwhile, were unable to keep pace with the Penguins, who are now four points ahead in the standings with a game in hand.
Atlantic Division Notes
New Jersey Devils – Ilya Kovalchuk’s game-winning goal last night was the 400th goal of his career, making him only the 87th player in NHL history to accomplish such a feat. The Devils have scored only five goals in their last five games, not counting a shootout goal they recorded on March 15th.
New York Islanders – Rookie David Ullstrom‘s goal last night was his first since December 10th, a span that stretched 15 games. Ullstrom has recently been put on the right wing of the Islanders third line with fellow rookie Casey Cizikas and second-year winger Michael Grabner.
New York Rangers – The Rangers will host the Detroit Red Wings in a nationally televised game this evening, a matchup both teams will likely be using as a measuring stick headed into the playoffs. The Rangers, who are coming off a strong win against New Jersey on March 19th, will look to take advantage of a Red Wings team that has lost five games in a row and have won only three of their last 10.
Philadelphia Flyers – Though the Flyers only scored on one of their 36 shots on net last night, it was not for a lack of trying as 16 of the 18 skaters in the lineup recorded at least one shot on net. Defensemen Andreas Lilja and Pavel Kubina returned to the lineup last night and formed the Flyers third defensive pairing.
Pittsburgh Penguins – With three goals, an assist, and 10 shots last night, Penguins winger James Neal moved into a tie for fourth in the NHL in goals (35) and ninth in points (72). Neal has been red hot since March 11th, managing five goals and five assists through five games. Penguins goaltending prospect Brad Thiessen made his third start of the season last night, knocking aside 26 of 30 shots in an 8-4 win. On the season, Thiessen has a 2.68 goals against average.