PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins
and Philadelphia Flyers
, big rivals about to meet in a very big series, spent their Saturday tuning up, not toughing it up, only six days after playing an especially intense and emotional game.
Maybe that benefitted the talent-heavy Penguins in the final preview of what will be a marquee matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, an all-Pennsylvania series that is certain to be physical and more than competitive.
, the Art Ross Trophy winner, hit the 50-goal mark for the first time, Sidney Crosby
had a goal and an assist and Pascal Dupuis
extended the NHL's longest points streak of the season to 17 games as the Penguins finally beat the Flyers at Consol Energy Center, winning 4-2.
"To be able to cap that season off with 50 is great for him," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Malkin, who rebounded from a career-low 15-goal season that ended in early February 2011 with a serious knee injury.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said there wasn't much about the game to like, especially with both teams already locked into their playoff positions.
The Penguins, who finished fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 51-25-6 record, will entertain the fifth-place Flyers (47-26-9) in Games 1 and 2 of the conference quarterfinals starting in midweek. The NHL will announce times and dates on Sunday.
"Tonight has nothing to do with [Game 1]," Laviolette said. "[Game 1] will be a different animal, there will be lots of emotion."
Flyers center Zac Rinaldo
drew a game misconduct for checking Zbynek Michalek
from behind and Penguins forward Joe Vitale
fought Flyers forward Harry Zolnierczyk early on, but emotions ratcheted down significantly after that.
The Flyers – and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
-- had been 5-0 in Consol since the downtown arena opened last season. But the Penguin never trailed in finishing up only the second 50-win season in franchise history; their 1992-93 team won 56 times.
This will be the third time in five seasons the Pennsylvania rivals have met up in the playoffs; The Penguins won in 2008 and 2009, when they played in the now-demolished Civic Arena.
"There's a lot of bad blood already between the teams and there's going to be more after the series is done," Flyers center Brayden Schenn
said it might be an advantage to the Flyers to open the series in a building where they are 5-1-0. The Flyers also won the season series 4-2-0.
"It's nice to have the hatred of the city against us. We thrive off that and it's going to be a bloodbath," he said.
The series seemed almost inevitable for weeks, given that the Penguins and the Flyers owned the second- and third-best records in the conference. The top three spots are reserved for division champions.
The Flyers dominated the Penguins in their 6-4 victory at Consol last Sunday, although they lost both center Danny Briere
and defenseman Nicklas Grossman
to injuries in an especially heated game that wound down with Laviolette and Penguins assistant Tony Granato standing on their benches and yelling at each other.
This time, both teams dressed tough guys – Jody Shelley
by Philadelphia and Steve MacIntyre
by Pittsburgh – to discourage any extracurricular activity -- but neither team wanted to see an important player injured.
"We had Big Mac there and I don't think they wanted any part of him," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
Despite some significant distractions during the week – Laviolette calling Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "gutless" and Rangers coach John Tortorella rebuking Pittsburgh's stars with an expletive-filled rant – the Penguins will go into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. The Flyers dropped two of their last three.
There's also this for the Flyers to think about. Since Crosby returned to the Penguins on March 15 following a three-month injury layoff, they have averaged 4.5 goals per game while going 9-4-1.
Malkin and Crosby played together in only 22 of the Penguins' 81 games but were impactful in many of those; each star scored in nine of those 14 games after Crosby returned.
"We wanted to finish strong and I think we did that the last few games," Crosby said. "The real thing starts now. I expect a pretty intense series if anything prior to this is any indication. Those are the kind of series you want to be part of, you're excited to be part of."
The Penguins took control after Jaromir Jagr
ended a 15-game streak without a goal by scoring on a wraparound to tie it at 2-2 in the second period, the second-longest streak of his career,
Crosby scored on a power play at 17:54, his sixth goal in those 14 games. Jordan Staal
picked up the second assist, giving him his first 50-point season.
Malkin, who proclaimed several weeks ago he was aiming for the 50-goal mark, reached it with only 12 seconds left in the second with a wrist shot from the high slot off Kris Letang
's drop pass.
Malkin, who wrapped up his second NHL scoring title in four years, showed more emotion than usual after scoring, smiling broadly while accepting the congratulations of teammates as he concluded a 109-point season.
"Incredible year," Crosby said, "and a great number to finish with."
Dupuis also finished a career year in which he became only the second Penguins player since Mario Lemieux's prime to assemble a scoring streak as long as 17 games, getting his career-high 25th goal on a slap shot set up by Arron Asham
less than six minutes into the game. Crosby had a 25-game streak last season.
answered in the final minute of the period for the Flyers before Chris Kunitz
restored Pittsburgh's lead at 2-1 with his 26th goal.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
left with that lead midway through the second as Bylsma played both of his goalies. Brent Johnson
got the win despite allowing Jagr's 19th goal less than a minute after he took over. Johnson faced only five more shots.
And don't tell the fans the game didn't matter in the standings; the crowd of 18,616 was a Penguins record at Consol and their 251st consecutive sellout.