Crosby scores twice, Malkin once as Penguins win division
Penguins Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal with Marian Hossa and Sergi Gonchar in the second period.
Penguins Ryan Malone tripped by Flyers Jason Smith in the third period during the final regular season game at the Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh Pa.
Penguins Evgeni Malkin is taken down by the Flyers Randy Jones in the second period
Share with others:
Winning the Atlantic Division championship wasn't the objective six or seven months ago.
Not according to Penguins coach Michel Therrien, anyway.
Or Sidney Crosby, for that matter.
Simply getting into the Stanley Cup playoffs was the goal, Therrien said. Crosby suggested that playing well was what truly counted.
That's not how Georges Laraque saw it, however. After the Penguins clinched the Atlantic title with a 4-2 victory against Philadelphia at Mellon Arena last night, Laraque said flatly that he expected nothing less from this team.
That any club with this kind of personnel couldn't have settled for second-best.
"We have the material to finish first," Laraque said. "It would have been disappointing if we didn't, because of what we did last year. Every year, the goal is to get better.
"It was a lot of hard work, but, if you look at our team, we should be first."
This is the Penguins' first division championship since they won the Northeast in 1997-98.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 47-26-8 and positioned them to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference if they can defeat the Flyers in a rematch at 3:08 p.m. Sunday in Philadelphia.
The Penguins have a two-point lead over second-place Montreal in the East; the Canadiens have two home games remaining, against Buffalo tonight and Toronto Saturday.
Should the Canadiens lose either of those games in regulation, the Penguins will have first place in the East wrapped up before they step on the ice Sunday.
Even so, Philadelphia could be competing for playoff seeding or a playoff berth. And it's clear the Penguins would like to be the team that prevents the Flyers from qualifying.
"Of course," Ryan Malone said, smiling broadly.
The Flyers, as usual, tried to batter Crosby, legally and otherwise, at every opportunity. And Crosby, as usual, responded by torching them for a fistful of points.
This time, he scored two goals and set up another, giving him 16 goals and 21 assists in 20 career games against the Flyers.
"It's been intense since I got here, so I don't think it takes [physical abuse to get involved]," Crosby said.
Seeing Flyers winger Scott Hartnell target Crosby at every opportunity apparently was enough to get Sergei Gonchar to add a physical dimension to his game. He laid Hartnell out twice on one shift during the second period.
"He's a guy who's trying to be physical," Gonchar said. "He's hitting people, so, once in a while, you have to hit him back, too."
Crosby had one of his best games of the season last night. So did the Penguins' power play, which broke out of an extended dormant stretch by scoring on four of six tries.
"The power play lately was not that good, but tonight they did the job," Therrien said. "They found a way to make it happen."
After Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead at 8:58 of the opening period, when Hartnell took a cross-ice feed from Daniel Briere and scored from inside the right circle, Gonchar countered for the Penguins at 10:24.
Jeff Carter put Philadelphia back in front at 13:13, but that was the last puck the Flyers got past Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Penguins rang up the final three goals of the game.
Crosby scored from the bottom of the right circle during a five-on-three power play at 6:26 of the second, and Evgeni Malkin got the winner at 14:33, beating Flyers goalie Martin Biron from the left dot seconds after Fleury had denied Flyers forward Sami Kapanen from close range at the other end.
Then, with only 94 seconds left in regulation, Gonchar threw the puck toward Crosby, who was to the right of the Flyers' net. Crosby reached behind his back and deflected the puck between his own legs and behind Biron.
The game was over. So was the battle for first place in the Atlantic.
It was a major step forward for this team, though not necessarily the final one.
"First place is a great feeling," Malkin said through interpreter George Birman. "But it doesn't mean anything if we're not going to show up with our best game in the playoffs."
First Published April 3, 2008 12:00 am