Sullivan impressed with playoff-bound Penguins
The Associated Press
NEW YORK – Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan recognizes what an achievement it is to get into the postseason.
“I’m glad we solidified a playoff spot,” Sullivan said after a 5-0 rout of the Islanders behind rookie Matt Murray’s first career shutout. “It’s hard to make the playoffs in this league. There are a lot of good teams. There is so much parity.
“That three-point system makes it really tough because it keeps everyone close. I’m happy for everyone here. We hit our first goal of making the playoffs and solidifying a spot.”
The Penguins made the postseason for the 10th straight year and solidified their grip on second place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh led the New York Rangers by three points, with the Rangers hosting Buffalo on Saturday night
Surging Pittsburgh improved to 45-25-8 with its fifth straight win and has outscored opponents 25-10 in that stretch.
“If we play the right way, we can be hard to beat,” Patric Hornqvist said. “We can’t get full of ourselves because we have been playing good, either.”
Sullivan had no doubts how Murray would play in place of injured Marc-Andre Fleury.
“One of the reasons he’s here is because we knew he could help us win,” Sullivan said after Murray made 23 saves. “He has a calm demeanor, a quiet confidence about him.”
Hornqvist, Oskar Sundqvist, Matt Cullen, Phil Kessel and Tom Kuhnhackl scored for Pittsburgh, and Sidney Crosby got his 600th NHL assist. Crosby, the NHL’s first star for March, played in his 704th game as a Penguin, passing Brooks Orpik for fifth place on the franchise’s all-time list.
“I don’t know if anyone expected us to put as many (games) together as we have down the stretch,” said Crosby. “We’ve worked hard. We’ve earned it.”
Crosby has 24 points in Pittsburgh’s last 18 games.
“It means you played with some really good players and played a fairly long time,” Crosby said of 600 assists. “It’s nice to get it out of the way and hopefully get more.”
Hornqivst also had an assist. He, Cullen and Justin Schultz each finished with two points. Nine Penguins had at least one point in the rout.
Despite getting 26 saves from Jean-Francois Berube, New York fell to 42-26-5 after its first loss in four games. The Islanders lead Philadelphia by two points for the East’s first wild-card berth. Both teams have five games remaining, including the season finale on April 10 at Barclays Center.
“I believe in this group. It’s just disappointing the way we played,” captain John Tavares said. “Considering where everything stands right now, that kind of effort is unacceptable. It’s extremely disappointing.”
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Sundqvist’s short-handed goal. The sequence began with a miscommunication between Berube and Nick Leddy on a pass. Berube sent a pass up the middle as Leddy curled toward the half wall, and Sundqvist picked off the puck at the blue line before getting his first NHL goal on a long wrist shot.
“When you play a team like Pittsburgh – they’re playing well right now – you can’t give them anything,” coach Jack Capuano said. “They got two power-play goals, they got a turnover from the goaltender, they got a turnover from the back end, and another turnover from the back end.
“When you make those kind of mistakes, the percentages aren’t going to go in your favor.”
Sundqvist’s goal underscored an opening 20 minutes in which Pittsburgh outshot New York 14-7 despite the Islanders having two full power plays.
For the game, Pittsburgh outshot New York 33-24.
More New York mistakes helped the Penguins. With Nikolay Kulemin serving a double-minor for roughing and slashing Kris Letang, Pittsburgh doubled its lead on Hornqvist’s power-play goal. Crosby earned his 600th assist as Hornqvist tipped Schultz’s shot from the left point.
The Penguins finished 2 for 3 on the man advantage, and killed all five New York power plays.
Cullen’s goal with 4:18 left in the middle period put the game out of reach. Calvin de Haan committed an unforced turnover at the blue line, leading to Cullen’s 14th goal.
Kessel’s power-play strike in the third period was his 26th of the season, and fifth goal in his last five games. Kuhnhackl ended the scoring.
NOTES: Both teams have significant injuries to key players. The Penguins were without starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, diagnosed with a concussion Friday, while the Islanders will not have defenseman Travis Hamonic for the rest of the regular season with a lower body injury sustained in a win over Columbus on Thursday. . Marek Zidlicky dressed in place of Hamonic. The game was Zidlicky’s first since March 6. … Along with Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski and Jaroslav Halak missed the game due to injuries. . The Penguins scratched Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Bryan Rust. . Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton and Ryan Pulock were scratched by the Islanders. … The Islanders announced a sellout crowd of 15,795. It was their eighth sellout of the season.