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Pittsburgh Penguins title a decade in the making

by Brian Compton

Last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Flyers 4-2 to clinch their first division championship in 10 years. Pens win the Atlantic
Some random thoughts while they party like it’s 1998 in the Steel City:

A Decade In The Making – It’s been 10 long years since the Pittsburgh Penguins could call themselves division champions, but Sidney Crosby & Co. woke up this morning with that exact label following Wednesday night’s 4-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena.

It’s a phenomenal accomplishment for these Pens, who missed Crosby for close to 30 games and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for three months due to ankle injuries. But players such as Evgeni Malkin (Hart Trophy candidate, for sure) and Ty Conklin stepped up their games to keep Pittsburgh in the hunt.
''We ended up losing Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury and so many other guys during the course of the season, and we were just trying to focus and maintain our position to make the playoffs,'' Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. ''The guys surprised me with their commitment.''

They also must have surprised the Flyers with their special teams, as all four of Pittsburgh’s goals came on the power play. Crosby had half of them, giving him 24 tallies this season.

''We knew going in it was going to be an emotional game, an intense game with them needing to play desperate hockey and us wanting to play well here down the stretch, with the division in mind,'' Crosby said. ''For me personally, that's probably the most intense game we've played since I got back here the second time.''
Kudos are in order to the entire city of Pittsburgh for the dedication its fans provided during the regular season. The Penguins sold out all 41 home games this campaign, a franchise record.
“To win at home and win the division against a rival, I'll bet everyone in here will say it's our best win of the season, and Sunday (against the Flyers again) could even top that,” Pens defenseman Ryan Whitney said. ''It's exciting in here right now.''

Kane Is Able – After the Chicago Blackhawks’ 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings at a sold-out United Center on Wednesday night, Patrick Kane basically came out and admitted what we all already knew: He wants the rookie scoring title.
With a goal and two assists against the Wings, Kane regained the lead by two points over Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom in the NHL rookie race. The 19-year-old Kane now has 19 goals and 50 assists for the Blackhawks, who kept their slim playoff hopes alive with the victory. With two games remaining, Chicago sits three points out of the final playoff spot in the West.

“That comes in a bonus with the win,” Kane said. “That’s special. It would be big for the organization and myself, especially coming in here and not having many expectations.”
Regardless of what happens to these Blackhawks in their last two games, hockey fans in Chicago should be excited about the future. With Kane and Jonathan Toews leading the way, the Blackhawks should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Rocks At The Rock – Nothing would please the New Jersey Devils more than home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Wednesday night’s 3-2 shootout win against the Boston Bruins at the Prudential Center, Brent Sutter’s club improved to 24-14-2 on home ice. The Devils can clinch the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference by winning Friday at Philadelphia or beating the New York Rangers at home Sunday in the regular-season finale.

''We talked about the home-ice advantage,'' said Zach Parise, who scored the lone goal of a four-round shootout Wednesday night. ''That's the thing we need to get. It's an important win for us.''
Ph-eel The Heat – The Flyers are in desperation mode.

''We still hold our fate in our hands. If we win our next two we're in.'' - Flyers forward Mike Richards
Philadelphia entered Wednesday’s action needing four points in its final three games to assure itself of making the playoffs. By the end of the night, the Flyers found themselves in eighth place in the conference, a point behind Boston and only one ahead of Washington, which hosts Tampa Bay and Florida in its final two games. They still need four points, but only have two games remaining to get it.

Philly hosts the Devils on Friday night before concluding the regular season Sunday against the Penguins at the Wachovia Center.

''We still hold our fate in our hands. If we win our next two we're in,'' forward Mike Richards said. ''Two games at home is a good position to be in. This was like a playoff game, and in playoff games, specialty teams are the difference.''

Chad LaRose gets congratulated on his goal by teammate Bret Hedican last  night. LaRose recorded his first career hat trick in the 'Canes 6-2 win.
One To Go – With the Washington Capitals breathing down its necks, Carolina knew it had to come away with a win Wednesday night against Tampa Bay.

The Hurricanes can breathe a little easier now.

Chad LaRose scored his first NHL hat trick, and Eric Staal had a goal and an assist as the Hurricanes pulled to within a win of the Southeast Division title with a 6-2 win at RBC Center.
Carolina can wrap things up Friday night by beating the Florida Panthers.

''One more game to win, and we look forward to the challenge against Florida,'' Staal said. ''We need to come out with that same energy and passion that we did tonight, and just take it to them.''

It was a terrific way for LaRose to contribute after missing close to two months with a broken leg. His efforts have the ‘Canes within one win of the No. 3 seed in the East.

''Sitting out for so long was so tough, and I promised myself when I would get back that I'd be great every shift,'' said LaRose, who missed 21 games. ''I'm trying to work at it.''

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