Pens, Flyers set to renew rivalry
Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 7:31 PMPENGUINS (44-21-5) at FLYERS (41-22-8)
: NBC (HD), NHLN-CA, RDSI (HD)
: Pittsburgh 10-0-0; Philadelphia 7-2-1.
: This is the fourth of six season meetings between the cross-state rivals, and the third and final at Wells Fargo Center. Pittsburgh's 6-4 win in the arena on Feb. 18 gave the Pens a 2-1 edge in the season series.
: Two teams battling for the fourth playoff seed and, possibly, a chance to unseat the New York Rangers atop the Atlantic Division will face off on Sunday afternoon. Pittsburgh is within a game of the Rangers and currently in fourth, while the Flyers have used a similar run of form to pull within five points of New York.
: Nobody is playing hotter hockey than Pittsburgh. With 11 straight wins, the Pens have turned from playoff competitor to Stanley Cup favorite in the span of a month. On Thursday, the NHL's best team reinstated the NHL's best player. Sidney Crosby
returned from an extended absence due to post-concussion symptoms and a neck injury to face the Rangers, a game that Pittsburgh controlled throughout and ended up winning, 5-2. The Pens continued to dismantle their Eastern competition on Saturday, when they routed sixth-place New Jersey, also by a 5-2 score. While he has yet to find the net himself, Crosby is making his presence felt in the assist column. No. 87 has five assists in two games.
"If you come into a situation where everyone is playing well and you just have to fill your role, do your job, it's always more comfortable," Crosby said. "It's a good feeling and that's really what you want at the end of the day."
: In the midst of the Crosby-mania that’s gripped the NHL in recent weeks, another "humangous" story was unfolding across the state. Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
exhibited a consistency and resolve he has lacked all season, winning seven straight starts and recording four shutouts over that period. Heading into Saturday's tilt against Boston, Bryz had conceded seven goals in seven games, but he allowed two in the first period against the slumping Bruins. The goalie put the clamps on following that, stopping 31 shots in all as the Flyers pushed Boston to a shootout. In the extra frames, all three Boston shooters scored to give them the win.
"They smoked us that first half of the game," said forward Scott Hartnell
, "but we decided to play, we decided to keep it simple, get it behind them, and towards the end of that game we tired them out and we had a lot of chances even to win in regulation. They had some breaks ... a big point for us, though."
: Matt Cooke
has been a direct beneficiary of Crosby's return. Playing on a line with Crosby and Tyler Kennedy
, Cooke snapped a seven-game goalless run with 4 goals in two games.
: Pittsburgh's Dustin Jeffrey
(illness) missed Saturday's game against New Jersey, while Brent Johnson
(lower body) is out indefinitely. … The Flyers' long injury list makes their recent surge all the more impressive. That list grew Saturday, when Andreas Lilja
(throat) and Maxime Talbot
(upper body) left Saturday's game. Pavel Kubina
(upper body) missed the game, and Andrej Meszaros
(lower body), James van Riemsdyk
(left-foot surgery) and Tom Sestito
(groin surgery) will all miss significant time.
: Expect goals on top of goals on Sunday at Wells Fargo – even if Bryzgalov gets the start in net for Philadelphia. The Penguins and Flyers are 1-2 in goals-per-game. Pittsburgh averages 3.17 goals every contest, and have scored five goals in each of its last three games.
: Ahead of Sunday's encounter, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said the winning streak paled in comparison to the value of a win over a divisional foe like Philadelphia.
"One of our goals is winning the division, and as we keep winning here it's a possibility," he said. "We want to keep focusing on that. It's great to win 11 in a row, but now we're going into Philly and Philly is right on our heels as well. They're playing great hockey and it's a big rivalry. We have to put 11 behind us and look right ahead to Philly."