Thursday, April 03, 2008

Penguins celebrate first place finish in Atlantic and ready the charge for first in the East

Two years ago they were a team as far down the standings as you could possibly go, the promise of a new rink nothing but the frequently mouthed words of politicians and businessmen and the threat of a re-location was very clear.

Zoom ahead to today and the Penguins are on top of their NHL world, clinching first place in the Atlantic division, over their most heated rival from across the state and doing in front what has become a regularly sold out crowd.

With the crowd in full celebration mode and the Penguins resembling a minor bantam squad taking their first pennant, you could say that life is good in Pittsburgh today.

To top the night off that declared that the Pens were back, it was a night when Sidney Crosby dominated the play as he has on many nights, but never to the degree of confidence that he seemed to exude on Wednesday.

In what at times resembled a potential gang fight, the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers played as close to a playoff style game as you're going to get without being in a game seven situation.

There were heavy hits, cheap shots and a couple of dusts ups. Amazing passing plays, scoring plays that dazzled the crowd and remarkable saves that kept the game close for much of its sixty minutes.

Philadelphia got out to an early lead and seemed poised to take charge of the night, heading into the second period they were holding a 2-1 lead and seemed poised to punish the Pens physically as well as on the scoreboard.

But then, in what can only be described as a case of the stupids, the physical play began to morph into some of the dumb, as the Flyers began to accumulate penalties for un-needed penalties, which the Pens took full advantage of.

As Pittsburgh began their reply to the 2-1 lead, they found that playing with a man advantage is a very good way to score some goals. All four Penguin goals on Wednesday were scored on the power play, with Sidney Crosby accounting for two of the four, with Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin rounding out the scoring for the Pens.

Punishing the Flyers for their occasionally tempestuous ways, the Pens did not back down for the most part from the physical play, though they took less of the stupid penalties and picked their spots for any come uppance that may have been required.

Should the Flyers tumble out of the playoff race over the weekend after games with the Devils and Pens again, they can look back to tonight and their lack of discipline at key moments of a tightly contested game.

While they did not want a replay of their last game with the Pens which saw Pittsburgh run the out of the rink, they needed to be more aware of what was at stake as they settled a few scores on the night.

Pittsburgh could claim first overall with a little help over the weekend, the Pens have one game left that return engagement with the Flyers in Philly, currently they have a two point lead over Montreal, the Habs have two games left to try and wrest the title away again, with home dates against Boston and Toronto.

Leaving the drama of home ice advantage in the east to run the course of the weekend before we know where they place and who they line up against in the playoffs.

Globe and Mail-- Penguins clinch Atlantic
Pittsburgh Tribune Review-- Pens win first division title since 1998
Pittsburgh Post Gazette-- Penguins win the division
Philadelphia Inquirer-- Loss keeps the Flyers in suspense

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