Penguins frozen out by Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Sometimes, things are exactly what they appear to be.

Take the Penguins, for instance.

They are a team with a watered-down lineup and almost nothing to play for in their remaining regular-season games.

And they looked every bit the part in their 4-0 loss against Minnesota Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.

"We did look like that," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "There is a challenge for us to find motivation to play well right now.

"Our playoff standing isn't going to change, based on how we play or how many wins we get, but ... we have to realize what's coming here in a couple of weeks, or whenever the playoffs start.

"We've talked a lot about that before, but it's true. We have to find a way to be more consistent, to be better."

Disappointing as the result had to be for the Penguins, they did get some apparently good news on rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, who was a surprise scratch because of an undisclosed injury.

Coach Dan Bylsma said after the game that Maatta is listed as day-to-day and that his absence is "not believed to be long-term."

With nothing at stake in the standings, perhaps the most significant aspect of the loss for the Penguins [49-24-5] was that it cost them a shot at tying the franchise record for away victories when they visit Colorado tonight in their road finale. They have 22; the team record is 24.

Several hours before their game, the Penguins learned they were locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference because Boston sewed up the top spot with a 5-2 victory against Philadelphia.

The Penguins will face the higher-seeded of the conference's two wild-card teams in the opening round of the postseason. Detroit looks to be their most likely opponent as the regular season enters its final eight days, but several teams could move up -- or, in the case of the Flyers, down -- to set up a first-round match-up with the Penguins.

Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov stopped all 20 shots the Penguins launched at him to become the first goalie to shut out the Penguins in Minnesota since Cesare Maniago of the North Stars did it in a 2-0 victory Feb. 20, 1972.

Minnesota also recorded 20 shots against Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, but four made it past him. That included three of the six the Wild got in the opening period.

Erik Haula gave Minnesota the only goal it needed at 1:42 of the first when he chased after a bouncing puck, got behind Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and backhanded a shot behind Zatkoff.

"They scored on kind of a weird play two minutes in," Niskanen said. "So it doesn't start well, and things snowballed for us."

Haula's goal marked the first time in six games against the Penguins that the Wild opened the scoring, and Minnesota seemed to enjoy it, because the Wild got two more before intermission arrived.

Mikko Koivo made it 2-0 at 8:47 as he worked his way from right to left across the slot, drew Penguins defenseman Paul Martin with him and threw a shot by Zatkoff.

Things deteriorated further for the Penguins at 14:45. Stephane Veilleux got a pass from Cody McCormick near the left hash and chipped a shot that struck Zatkoff's glove before settling into the net behind him.

The Penguins had a chance to get back in the game at 2:10 of the second period when James Neal had the puck alone in front of Bryzgalov. Neal threw a backhander toward the net, but Bryzgalov swatted the puck away with the paddle of his stick. Considering how rare scoring opportunities were, failing to capitalize on that one was costly.

"We were [playing] from behind in this game and couldn't generate a lot going the other way," Bylsma said.

Couldn't do much of anything, really. Not as well as they will have to if they hope to make a significant impact in the playoffs, anyway.

Center Sidney Crosby, who had a six-game points streak snapped, suggested that's not an unreasonable objective, and that all it requires is for the Penguins to "just play the right way."And that, he noted, is something the Penguins have proven repeatedly over the course of the season that they are capable of doing.


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 5, 2014 10:32 PM

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