Penguins close in on fourth place with 5-3 victory in Boston

BOSTON -- Look at it one way, and the glass is empty.

No, it's shattered.

Look at it another, however, and it's getting awfully close to full.

On a night when the Penguins lost any hope of finishing first in the Eastern Conference, they also took a significant step toward locking up fourth place -- and home-ice advantage in a likely opening-round series against Philadelphia.

The New York Rangers' 5-3 victory in Philadelphia clinched the top spot in the East for them, but coupled with the Penguins' 5-3 victory in Boston, it moved the Penguins three points ahead of the Flyers.

Three stars
  • 1. Sidney Crosby, Penguins C: 2 goals, 1 assist
  • 2. Milan Lucic, Bruins LW: 1 goal, 1 assist
  • 3. Kris Letang, Penguins D: 3 assists

That means the Penguins' magic number for securing fourth place has shrunk to two.

A victory against the Rangers Thursday night at Consol Energy Center -- or a Flyers loss in regulation at home to Buffalo that evening -- would render the regular-season finale against Philadelphia Saturday afternoon meaningless.

Except, of course, for the fact that the Penguins haven't won a game from the Flyers there since the building opened in 2010.

This was the Penguins final away game of the regular season. They finished 22-15-4, matching the second-highest total of road victories in team history.

The victory, significant as it was, came at a cost.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen went directly to the locker room after absorbing a hard hit from Bruins forward Daniel Paille late in the second period, and center Joe Vitale departed after being struck in the face by a shot by Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara late in the third.

What's more, winger Steve Sullivan was limping after the game and appeared to be going for X-rays or an examination.

Coach Dan Bylsma would say only that there was no word on the nature or severity of any injury, and that the affected players would be evaluated after the team returned home.

The Penguins got a solid performance from backup goalie Brent Johnson, who turned aside 26 of 29 shots while making his second start in the past three games.

His biggest stop might have come about a minute and a half into the second period.

The Bruins had just tied the score, 2-2, 18 seconds into the period and had a two-on-one break, but Johnson was able to get his glove on Tyler Seguin's shot to prevent Boston from going in front.

"I could say I meant to save it, but that would be a lie," Johnson said, smiling.

"Honestly, it was all desperation. I just got over there as quick as I could.

"If he passes it back, I'm dead in the water. But he shot it, [and] I just got a piece of it."

Johnson wasn't the only Penguin to have a productive, satisfying evening.

To wit:

• Center Sidney Crosby scored two goals and set up another.

• Defenseman Kris Letang recorded three assists.

• Right winger James Neal scored his 40th goal of the season.

• Right winger Pascal Dupuis ran his scoring streak to 15 games, longest in the NHL this season.

But it was the Penguins power play, more than any individual, that charted the course of this game.

It scored twice late in the second period -- on a five-on-three at 18:11 and a five-on-four 48 seconds later -- to turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead.

"We definitely talked about it the last few days," Neal said.

"Not only doing good things in the offensive zone, but coming back and supporting each other.

"Not giving up anything, either."

Neal's goal, which came on the two-man advantage, put the Penguins in front to stay and was his 40th, making him only the fourth player in the league to get that many this season.

"It feels good," Neal said.

So did getting the two points. And while the Penguins hardly put together 60 minutes of solid, responsible hockey, they did enough things well to tighten their grip on fourth place in the conference.

"We did still make some mistakes," Crosby said.

"We also did some better things, too, with blocking shots, and [Johnson] made some big saves.

"Our special teams were much better. There are going to be times when you're not going to do everything perfect, [and] you need other things to kind of pick up the slack."


Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 4, 2012 5:45 PM


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