Confident Penguins win again
By Dan Scifo
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH – As the Stanley Cup playoffs approach, the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing with the confidence that they can beat any team in the NHL.
The rival Philadelphia Flyers are just trying to get into the postseason.
Sidney Crosby, Beau Bennett and Patric Hornqvist scored to help Pittsburgh build an early lead, and the surging Penguins equaled their longest winning streak of the season at six games with a 6-2 victory over the Flyers on Sunday.
“I think that when our team plays the game the right way, we’re as good as any team and we can beat anybody,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Crosby scored his 33rd goal, Bennett his sixth and Hornqvist his 21st as Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-0 advantage midway through the second period. Carl Hagelin added his 12th and Eric Fehr scored twice in the third period for the Penguins, who won for the 12 time in 13 games. They moved five points ahead of the third-place New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh, in the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, reached 100 points for the 10th time in team history. The Penguins have scored at least five goals in five of their last seven games.
“Everybody is playing the right way and doing a good job of creating momentum no matter who’s out there,” Crosby said. “If they don’t score, they’re putting the other team on their heels for the next line.”
Matt Murray stopped 28 shots for Pittsburgh, starting back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He earned his first NHL shutout Saturday against the New York Islanders, filling in for Marc-Andre Fleury, who is out with a concussion. There is no timetable for Fleury’s return.
“It was a challenge and something new for me, but I like playing games and I thought I played pretty well this weekend,” Murray said.
Wayne Simmonds matched a career high with his 29th goal, and Jakub Voracek scored his 11th for the Flyers, who remained one point ahead of Boston for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Steve Mason made his ninth consecutive start and second in two days for Philadelphia as Michal Neuvirth remains out with a lower-body injury. Mason, who had 33 saves, has nine wins in his last 14 starts.
“We didn’t start the game the way we wanted to,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said.
“They started the game with more speed and more pace than we did. They were into their game right away. It’s hard to play from a two-goal deficit on the road.”
Boston was unable to pass the Flyers after losing 6-4 at Chicago earlier in the day. Philadelphia couldn’t pull into a tie with the Islanders for the first wild card in the East.
The Islanders have five games remaining, while the Flyers have four and the Bruins three.
“Every game has been critical for us over the last two months,” Hakstol said. “Do they get bigger as we get into the final week of the season? You could say that, but every game we have left is critical.”
The Penguins and Flyers were out of playoff position in January, but both teams have been among the league’s best during the last month.
Pittsburgh has won 16 of its last 20 games, while Philadelphia has wins in 13 of 19. The teams meet again Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Penguins are on their most recent run without Evgeni Malkin, who missed his 12th straight game with an upper-body injury. They were also without Fleury and defenseman Olli Maatta, who is week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
“I like the focus our team has,” Sullivan said. “We don’t get distracted, we don’t get deterred. We keep playing. That has become the identity of this group.”
Crosby has led the resurgence with points in 18 of his last 19 games, including the last six.
He opened the scoring with a power-play goal, the Penguins’ seventh in six games. Crosby, at the top of the crease, gave a quick backhand to Phil Kessel’s shot from the top of the left circle.
Bennett scored 1:05 later when he one-timed a pass from Conor Sheary during a 2-on-1 for his first goal since Dec. 9. Bennett has missed 47 games because of injury.
Hornqvist extended the lead to 3-0 midway through the second when he beat Mason high on the glove side with a wrist shot.
The Flyers twice cut the deficit to two, but couldn’t pull any closer.
“They’re a desperate team and I thought we had a great start,” Crosby said. “We knew coming in that would be important.”
NOTES: Murray has seven wins in his first 10 NHL games. … Pittsburgh has won 18 of its last 24 at home, including six of the past seven. … The Penguins won the season series for the first time since 2012-13. … Kessel has 11 points in the past six games. … Pittsburgh visits Ottawa on Tuesday, and Philadelphia will play at Detroit on Wednesday. … Jordan Weal, R.J. Umberger, Scott Laughton, Evgeny Medvedev and Ray Emery were scratched for Philadelphia. … Pittsburgh scratched Bryan Rust and Derrick Pouliot.