ST. PAUL, Minnesota – Penguins defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen, both Minnesota natives, had a homecoming Saturday night with over 170 friends and family in attendance.
However, the Wild spoiled that homecoming with a 4-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
“That’d be a bonus if (our family) got to see us play a good game, but what’s more important is our team and how we play, especially with the playoffs right around the corner,” Niskanen said.
With the loss, the Penguins are now locked into the No. 2 seed overall in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins won their 53rd game of the season earlier in the afternoon to give them a 53-18-7 record for 113 points. The Penguins record now stands at 49-24-5 for 103 points. With just four games remaining the highest point total Pittsburgh can accumulate is 111.
The Penguins will open the playoffs against the top-seeded wild card team. Right now that distinction goes to the Detroit Red Wings (88 points, 78 games played), although Pittsburgh could still draw Columbus (85 points, 77 games played), New Jersey (84, 78), Toronto (84, 79) or Washington (83, 78).
The Penguins have nothing on the line as far as playoff positioning is concerned. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to play for in the final four games of the regular season.
“There is a challenge for us to find motivation to play well right now,” Niskanen said. “Our playoff standing isn’t going to change based on how we play or how many wins we get, but in (the locker room) we have to realize what’s coming in a couple weeks. When the playoffs start we can’t just turn it on.”
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was perfect between the pipes for Minnesota. He turned aside all 20 shots he faced.
Minnesota received goals from Erik Haula, Mikko Koivu, Stephane Veilleux and Cody McCormick.
Haula’s goal came on a weird play where the puck was lobbied into the zone. Haula won a race to the puck and quickly snapped it past goalie Jeff Zatkoff 1:42 into the game. And the game went downhill from there for Pittsburgh.
“They flip it over our defenseman’s head and (Haula) pokes it in,” Niskanen said. “It doesn’t start well. Things snowballed.”
The Penguins look to rebound Sunday night when they take on the Colorado Avalanche in the tail end of back-to-back games and the final contest of their three-game road trip – the final road trip of the regular season.
Pittsburgh ends the season with a three-game homestand and the team would like to create some good habits leading into the postseason.
“We have to play the right way,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We know what that is. We’ve done a good job of it. It’s just a matter of making sure we find that urgency for the last bit.”
The Penguins added two new names to their already extensive injury list. Forward Jussi Jokinen (upper-body) and defenseman Olli Maatta (upper-body) did not play against the Wild.
Head coach Dan Bylsma said both Jokinen and Maatta are day-to-day and neither injury is believed to be long-term.
And to make matters worse, forward Joe Vitale, who has already missed the last nine games with a mid-body injury, traveled back to Pittsburgh to have his injury further evaluated.
Author: Sam Kasan