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Notebook: Closing the Gap

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
PHILADELPHIA – The Penguins have had one major goal during the final run of the regular season, and that is to catch cross-state rival Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division crown and possibly the Eastern Conference title.

Pittsburgh inched slightly closer to that goal following its 2-1 shootout victory at Wells Fargo Center Thursday night, gaining one point in the standings on the Flyers.

The Penguins will get another shot to close the gap when Philadelphia visits CONSOL Energy Center on March 29.

“Coming into this building we wanted to give our best effort,” center Jordan Staal said. “It’s a good feeling coming into this barn and getting two points. Hopefully we can do the same when they come to our building.”

“We’re playing the Flyers and we know the situation in the standings,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “It felt like a big game, end-of-the-year type of atmosphere. … We’ve kept the (race) alive. They got a point tonight, but we gained some ground. We still have some games to win. We get them one more time in our building. If we can win in our building, that is gaining three points and we need those.”

The Penguins put together one of their best efforts of the season against the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers. Pittsburgh heavily outshot Philadelphia (31-20), and if not for the stellar play of netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, the Penguins would have possibly won the game in regulation.

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“We had a lot of scoring chances and limited them,” left wing Chris Kunitz said, who tallied the game-deciding shootout score. “We had a few more chances in overtime. One hit the crossbar. So we just kept pushing forward.”

“(Bobrovsky) played really well,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “I hit the crossbar in the third. We were close. He played really well. He was in place for every shot and seeing every puck.”

The Flyers opened the scoring with four minutes remaining in the first period on a fluky goal. A centering pass went off the stick of Matt Niskanen, off the skate of Flyers captain Mike Richards and into the air. Richards managed to get a stick on the puck and it popped over the shoulder of Marc-Andre Fleury for the goal.

The Penguins responded in the first minute of the second period when Tyler Kennedy snapped a shot from the high slot into the net for a power-play score. Alex Kovalev and Kunitz tallied in the shootout for the win to take down the mighty Flyers.

“I like after allowing a bad-bounce goal and (going) down 1-0 on the road we just kept playing,” Bylsma said. “I thought we were very good defensively. I thought everyone was strong coming back. I thought the D were good in the D zone. It allowed us to go the other way as well. We played a pretty solid, pretty hard-fought game. I thought we could have won that game in regulation.”

Now the Penguins will turn their attention to another Atlantic Division foe in New Jersey for a Friday night contest at CONSOL Energy Center. The team will need to keep compiling points in order to climb the mountain.

“We don’t just want to have good games, we want to finish first,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “We want to enter the playoffs on a strong note.”

The only downside to the team’s victory at Philadelphia was two more players have been added to the injury report.

Brent Johnson suffered an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. Center Dustin Jeffrey went down in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return.

“(Jeffrey) will be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh,” Bylsma said. “I saw him coming onto the bench and he was not doing well. I’m not ready to say whether it’s day-to-day or longer.”
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