Penguins blow opportunity for division title in 1-0 loss to Thrashers
The Atlanta Thrashers ended the Pittsburgh Penguins hopes of winning the Atlantic division and claiming a No. 2 seed in the playoffs, defeating Pittsburgh 1-0 Saturday night at Phillips Arena behind 33 saves from Johan Hedberg.
The loss secured Pittsburgh with the No. 4 seed in the playoffs for the second straight season and will face the Ottawa Senators in the first round for the third time in four seasons.
Coming off a 7-3 win Thursday night, Pittsburgh failed to take advantage of playing a non-playoff team that had little to play for. The Penguins appeared more worried about chasing 18 year old forward Evander Kane around the ice who hit Sidney Crosby twice early in the game and the Penguins took exception.
Mid-way through the 1st period, Crosby was awarded a 2-minute minor for cross-checking Kane and at the 16:07 mark, Eric Godard was penalized two minutes for roughing Kane and Michael Rupp was given a 10-minute misconduct.
Just minutes into the second period, Matt Cooke challenged Kane to a fight and Kane delivered two hard right punches to Cooke’s face that sent Cooke down to the ice in a completely one sided fight. A medical stretcher was brought on the ice but Cooke was eventually able to skate off the ice with some help from team personnel.
Thrashers head coach John Anderson took exception of the Penguins antics. “If they take exception to who gets hit out there, does that mean you are supposed to start a fight?” Anderson said. “I don’t get it……… Crosby is so great for this game, but when you’re always around the puck, you’re going to get hit a little bit. Every time he gets body checked, does that mean somebody is going to get attacked?
“Cooke came at an 18-year-old. What goes around, comes around. That’s all I can tell you, ” Anderson added.
Cooke had concussion like symptoms following the game and will under-go tests on Sunday morning. Cooke status for the Penguins regular season finale is doubtful but his ego might have taken more of a hit than the hard rights Kane delivered.
Meanwhile, Brooks Orpik left the game with a gash on his leg after taking a skate to his leg. Orpik received stitches after the game but deemed himself available to play against the Islanders if needed.
There is not any long-time concern with Orpik, while that’s not the case with Cooke or Chris Kunitz.
The Penguins will have not have Kunitz available to play in the regular season finale and Kunitz will miss his 4th straight game. Kunitz remains sidelined with a lingering shoulder injury.
If the playoffs started this weekend, it is not clear if Kunitz would have been able to play.
The Penguins will mull the possibility of calling up a forward as the Penguins will go into New York with only 11 healthy forwards. The intention going into the weekend games was to sit one or two key players if the Penguins positioning was determined by Sunday.
Sidney Crosby was held pointless and his bid of making a late run at the Art Ross trophy is all but over. Crosby has also now fallen a goal behind Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead in goals.
Stamkos scored goal No. 50 on Saturday, tying Ovechkin for the league lead. Crosby, Stamkos and Ovechkin will all be in action on Sunday. Ovechkin vs Bruins, Stamkos vs Panthers, Crosby vs Islanders.
The playoff schedule will be announced Sunday night around 11:00 p.m. The Penguins will open up at home on Wednesday or Thursday. Team officials are hoping to begin play on Thursday due to the Penguins injuries.
*The Penguins were 0-for-5 on the power play.