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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Penguins Reclaim Top Spot In Eastern Conference

This is turning out to be one heck of a battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference isn’t it? I’m not one to say that things are in the bag, especially after seeing my Red Sox come back from 3-0 down to beat the Yankees in 2004, but I think it would be safe to say that the Penguins are the 2007-08 Atlantic Division champions right about now.

The Devils do have a shot to catch them, but the Pens have a six-point lead over the Devils with the win this afternoon against the Rangers. The Pens have three games left and the Devils have four, so it is possible that the Devils could win the division is they win out and the Pens lose their final three.

The Penguins play the Rangers again tomorrow, this time in New York and close out the season with a home and home series with the Flyers who are looking to hold on to a playoff spot with the Bruins, Capitals and Sabres also looking to get in.

Right now the Flyers are the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference with 91 points, Boston is the 8-seed with 90 points, Washington has 88 points and the Sabres have 84.

While the Sabres chances are slim they do have a crucial game with Boston later today. The other thing they have going for them is the Pens playing two games against Philly. A Penguins sweep could knock the Flyers out of the playoffs and give the Caps and Sabres a chance to sneak into the playoffs.

Anyway, back to the game the Pens played against the Rangers today.

The Rangers got on the board first after a slow start to the game by the Pens. Brandon Dubinsky hammered home a rebound shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on an initial shot by Jaromir Jagr.

The Pens struck back just minutes later on an absolute laser to the shelf over Henrik Lundqvist by Marian Hossa. I’ll admit this was a total lucky bounce for Hossa since the initial pass by Sidney Crosby was meant for Pascal Dupuis. The puck bounced off Dupuis’ leg right to Hossa who wasted no time in slapping it home.

Later in the first, Crosby drew a slashing penalty on Fredrick Sjostrom setting up the eventual game winning goal by Evgeni Malkin. I still can’t get over how much Malkin has elevated his game this season.

Malkin received a pass at the point and took a slapper that went high and wide only to have Gonchar feed him right back again. A one-timer to the shelf by Malkin and the Pens took the lead 2-1 on the powerplay.

The rest of the game was more of a defensive battle as there were only a handful of chances traded by the two squads.

Here’s The Highlights

What surprised me today was the physical play of the Penguins. I don’t recall which of the three NBC announcers pointed this out, but they said that the Penguins were playing with a playoff mode physicality. I would completely agree and it all started with who else but big Georges Laraque who throttled a Rangers player.

That hit started a chain reaction for the Penguins. Kris Letang threw two checks of his own just seconds after the Laraque hit. Tyler Kennedy followed suit. I started getting nervous seeing that kind of play going on as it appeared that they were only concerned with putting Ranger players through the boards.

The last time I saw that mentality take over for the Pens was in that 8-2 blowout loss to Philly that we’ve looked at often. The difference this time was that this was controlled emotion and it paid off.

If the Penguins play with this kind of intensity in the playoffs, they will be a very difficult team to play against. They showed today they can play a tight one-goal game and limit the opposing team’s scoring chances and we all know they can score goals almost at will at times.

Final notes: Fleury was once again brilliant in the net for the Pens especially in the second period when they were outshot 11-4. Max Talbot slammed the door on the Rangers with just under one minute to play in the third when he deposited the loose change into the back of the net.
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Pens Take Over 1st In East With 3-1 Win Over Isles
March 28th, 2008 by sheashu

Yes, this will probably be short-lived but I’m going to bed tonight knowing that the Penguins are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with only four games left to play.

Before play tonight, the Penguins had a four-point lead over the Devils and a six-point lead over the Rangers. Ironically, those two played tonight and the Rangers won in regulation. This dropped the Devils six points back and the Ranger remain six points back as well. Things are starting to fall into place for the Pens to at least win the division. Now we just need some help from the Canadiens and we could have home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

As more good news, Sidney Crosby returned tonight and played on a line with Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. That line did not score in the game, but it’s good to see Sidney back on the ice.

Now for the bad news, Hossa left the game in the third period with an undisclosed upper body injury. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a big deal and that he doesn’t miss any time now that Crosby is back. I want to see these guys play together for longer than 40-plus minutes. We gave up enough to get Hossa, so I think we all deserve at least that much right?

Anyway, back to the game. Malkin got the Pens on the board with his 45th goal of the season on the powerplay in the first period. The Pens seemed to play a much sounder game tonight against the Isles, which I was expecting after the suckfest they put on the other night.

Also, Jarkko Ruutu had three points in the game. No, that’s not a typo. Jarkko assisted on Malkin’s goal and then scored a shorthanded goal on a beautiful wraparound in the second period. That goal proved to be the eventual game winner.

He also set up big Georges Laraque for the insurance marker in the third period. I was actually pretty impressed with the big fella’s hands and backhand roof job over Dubie.

Here’s The Highlights So You Can See For Yourself

The Pens now lead the Canadiens by one point in the Eastern Conference standings. The Habs play Buffalo tomorrow night, so I think I speak for all of Pens Nation when I say, Let’s Go Buffalo!

The Sabres are fighting to make the playoffs right now, so this is a huge game for them. I’m not saying they’re going to make it, but they are 5 points back of Philadelphia and Boston for the final spot. They are also three points behind Washington who is also trying to sneak into the playoffs.

Up next for the Penguins is a home and home series with the New York Rangers. The first game of the series is Sunday at 12:30pm. This has been picked as NBC’s NHL game of the week so be sure to tune in and watch what should be a great game.

One final note about tonight’s game. Ryan Whitney is now playing wing. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, coach Michel Therrien is looking for Whitney to be more consistent on defense. The reason for the shift to wing is due to the return of Rob Scuderi who has been a pleasant surprise as a stay at home d-man this season.

I used to get nervous every time I saw Scuderi on the ice, but that feeling has shifted to Hal Gill. I’ll save ripping on him until I have more physical evidence about why I’m nervous.

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