Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins' No. 1 power-play unit are ready for a potential first-round Stanley Cup playoff matchup against rival Philadelphia.
Crosby scored two of his team's four goals with the man advantage in a 4-2 doubling of the visiting Flyers Wednesday night as the Penguins clinched the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1998.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby celebrates his second-period goal.
(Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
Pittsburgh hadn't won a division title since taking the Northeast in 1997-98, the season after Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux retired for the first time.
Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin also scored power-play goals for Pittsburgh, which has outscored Philadelphia 15-6 in taking the past three meetings. The Penguins also improved to 26-10-5 at Mellon Arena, matching their home record of 2006-07.
"With the personnel they have on their power play, it's pretty hard to shut them down," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said. "This is as close as it's going to get to a playoff atmosphere."
They are 47-26-8 overall and regained sole possession of first place in the NHL's Eastern Conference over Montreal (45-25-10), which has a game in hand.
"It's huge. To win at home and win the division against a rival, I'll bet everyone in here will say it's our best win of the season, and Sunday [against Philadelphia] could even top that," defenceman Ryan Whitney said. "It's exciting in here right now."
With their eighth consecutive home win, the Penguins also prevented eighth-place Philadelphia (40-29-11) from leap-frogging the Boston Bruins in the battle for playoff positioning in the conference.
The Bruins picked up a huge point Wednesday in New Jersey, falling 2-1 to the Devils in a shootout. Boston remains in seventh spot with 92 points, followed by the Flyers with 91 and No. 9 Washington with 90. All three teams have two games left.
After scoring his first power-play goal in 30 games early in the second period to tie the game 2-2, Crosby rounded out the scoring with 94 seconds left in regulation as Philadelphia forward Mike Knuble served a penalty for hauling down the Penguins centre.
Crosby also took his share of punishment from the Flyers defence as the teams combined for more than 50 hits. He recorded three of them while firing a team-high six shots in 20 minutes, 17 seconds of ice time.
"We knew going in it was going to be an emotional game, an intense game with them needing to play desperate hockey and us wanting to play well here down the stretch, with the division in mind," Crosby said. "For me personally, that's probably the most intense game we've played since I got back here [from injury] the second time."
Crosby, who set up Malkin's second-period goal, has two goals and seven points in four games versus the Flyers this season. He could pad that total when the teams wrap up their eight-game season series Sunday in Philadelphia at 3 p.m. ET.
Jeff Carter and Hartnell were the only Flyers to beat Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 27 of 29 shots, including all 12 he faced in the third period.
Fleury's huge save leads to go-ahead goal
A native of Sorel, Que., Fleury has carried his strong play into April after being named the NHL's No. 2 star for March, during which he won nine games while posting a 1.44 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.
Fleury made no less than three big stops with his glove hand in the third period, but his biggest save came against Sam Kapanen on a redirect in the second period.
Pittsburgh then took the puck down the ice, with Whitney stopping inside the Flyers blue-line and sliding a pretty pass to Malkin, who beat Martin Biron through the legs at 14:33 for his 47th goal of the season to snap a 2-2 tie.
Philadelphia, which began the night with five wins in its previous six starts, opened the scoring as Hartnell beat Fleury for his 24th goal, one shy of his career high.
Gonchar tied the game midway through the first period, but Philadelphia regained the lead less than three minutes later, when Carter lifted a loose puck over Fleury's shoulder with Hal Gill in the penalty box.
At 6:07 of the second, Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn and Hartnell were whistled for holding and charging respectively on the same play and the Penguins took advantage.
Standing at the bottom of the faceoff circle, Crosby one-timed a Gonchar pass from the far blue-line into an open net for his 23rd goal of the campaign.
Philadelphia, which welcomed forward R.J. Umberger back to the lineup, must win their final two games to earn a playoff berth.With files from the Associated Press