Atlantic: Division playoff race continues to heat up

By Ian Altenbaugh

Photo: Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin stuffed this one home, but the Philadelphia Flyers took the 3-2 overtime win over the Penguins on Sunday (courtesy of

Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)

This past weekend saw all five teams in the Atlantic Division play at least one game, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers each playing two, including a nationally televised head-to-head match Sunday afternoon. Every team with the exception of the New York Rangers came out of the weekend with at least a point, the Pens and Flyers each coming away with three.

Below is a brief rundown of how all five teams fared over the weekend as well as what the rest of the week has in store.

New Jersey Devils
The Devils hosted a red-hot Pittsburgh team Saturday afternoon and were routed 5-2. The Devils were wildly outshot, 44-14, with this game being the first time the superlative Martin Brodeur has allowed more than four goals since January. While the loss was huge, the fallout was even worse, as it made it more difficult for the Devils to surpass the fifth-ranked Flyers. One positive for the Devils – defenseman Andy Greene scored in the second period, marking the first goal by a Devils player in over two games and the first by Greene in almost a year. New Jersey kicks off a mini-road trip today, first visiting the New York Rangers for a nationally televised game this evening, then the Ottawa Senators Tuesday. They wrap up the week hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs.

New York Islanders
The Isles kicked off a five-game road trip on Saturday when they beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a six-round shootout. Defenseman Mark Streit extended his point streak to five points in four games when he scored in the second period against the Habs. He hadn’t scored a goal since February 11th, a span of 17 games. The Islanders will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively; it will be the last time the Isles play either team this season.

New York Rangers –
The Blueshirts saw their lead in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference further dwindle on Saturday when they lost to the Colorado Avalance, 3-1. The Rangers are now a single point ahead of the fourth-ranked Pittsburgh Penguins and three ahead of the fifth-ranked Flyers. The Rangers are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have struggled considerably on the power play, scoring only three goals on their last 24 opportunities, all of which came in a single
game against the Islanders on March 11th. The Blueshirts are amidst a seven-game home stand which began on March 11th and ends on the 23rd. They host the New Jersey Devils tonight, the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, then wrap up the home stand when the Buffalo Sabres visit on Friday.

Philadelphia Flyers –
The Philadelphia Flyers played two extremely hard-fought games this past weekend, first losing on Saturday to the Boston Bruins in a 3-2 shootout, then on Sunday beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-2 overtime match. The team is now just two points behind the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins and three behind the division- and conference-leading Rangers. The Flyers are 8-1-1 in their last 10, with much of the credit for that success going to goaltender
Ilya Bryzgalov, who has allowed eight goals in his last eight stars. His performance has been all the more impressive considering the Flyers have been missing two of their top-six defensemen for most of March. Yesterday’s victory over the Penguins was the first match of a five-game home stand that will also see the Flyers host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday and the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Pittsburgh Penguins –
The Penguins saw their league-leading 11-game winning streak end yesterday when they lost 3-2 in overtime to a banged up but very hot Flyers team. They did however come out of the weekend with three of four possible points, positioning themselves just one point behind the division- and conference-leading New York Rangers. Pittsburgh will look to try to overtake the top spot in the East this week when they host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

The Penguins have been red-hot over the last 30 days and continue to improve with the return of stars Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. Since the two returned last Thursday, the Penguins are 2-0-1, have outshot opponents 116-72, and outscored them 12-7. Crosby’s presence has been particularly evident as he has combined with linemates Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke to post four goals and nine assists. The threat the Penguins captain brings to the ice has also created space for the Penguins top line of Kunitz-Malkin-Neal, who have combined for five goals and four assists since Crosby’s return.

With Crosby, Staal, and Malkin healthy in the lineup, the Penguins boast one of, if not the deepest and most talented, group of centers in the NHL, so much so that when all three produce at least one point in the same game, the Penguins are 63-3-6.