Pittsburgh 42-23-8, 92 pts) @ Philadelphia (44-19-9, 97pts)
PHI Home Record: 21-10-5 | PIT Road Record: 20-10-6
PHI Last 10: 4-3-2 | PIT Last 10: 6-2-2 |
Season Series: Philadelphia leads, 3-1
Although the Penguins are very close to clinching a playoff berth, the Penguins enter tonight’s pivotal matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers in a must-win situation, when it comes to their chances of winning the division title.
“They’re in our sights,” head coach Dan Bylsma said on Wednesday. “We’ve gotta win two games against them to think we have a chance of getting them.”
Several players have pinpointed the final two games against Philadelphia as must-wins. The Penguins over the past couple days, appear to be a motivated group, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, and coming off a thrilling 5-4 shootout victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
The Penguins feel that they’re starting to play their game as the team enters the stretch run.
Pittsburgh trails Philadelphia by five points for the conference and division lead and the Flyers have a game in hand. The players know tonight’s game is a four point swing as the Flyers look to take a commanding seven point lead in the division.
Philadelphia has taken 3 of 4 games from Pittsburgh this season, including the last meeting on Dec. 14, a 3-2 Flyers victory. In the win, Scott Hartnell had a goal and an assist, leading Philadelphia to the win.
“It’s another big challenge for our team to see where we’re at, ” Pens center Jordan Staal said.
The Flyers are seeking their first division title since the lockout. Pittsburgh last won the division in 2007-2008.
The Penguins enter tonight’s action with a three point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning (39-23-11, 89 pts) for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 4-5 seed has been familiar position for Pittsburgh. The Penguins have entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed, the past two post-seasons and were the 5th seed in the 2006-2007 post-season.
The Flyers have emerged this season as the most complete team in the Eastern Conference and the most dynamic offensive team, averaging 3.18 goals per game. Few teams can match Philadelphia’s depth upfront but as the playoffs loom, question marks once again surround Philadelphia’s goaltending.
22 year old Sergei Bobrovsky has been a difference maker for much of the season but has hit a wall of late. He was pulled in Tuesday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals and is struggling to make routine saves.
Bobrovsky is 5-5-2 since the All-Star break but the Flyers as an organization don’t appear concerned.
“Sergei has been a good goaltender for us this year,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told CSNphilly.com. “We think he has a chance to be a real good player for the Flyers over the next number of years. With any young player there are times when they struggle with their game.
“I don’t think he is any different than any other young guy who has come along here in the last little while. He’ll continue to work. One thing about him: He shows up to work. He has good attitude about the game. I don’t have any concerns that he’ll be better the next game he plays.”
Bobrovsky is 2-1 against Pittsburgh this season and will get the start in goal tonight. He is 26-11-8 on the season.
“He’s had good success against Pittsburgh and it’s an opportunity to get him back in the net after … the last game,” Laviolette said during today’s media session. “Nobody wants to sit on a game like that. He’s been great for us all year, so he gets a chance to go back in there.”
Backup Brian Boucher who some thought would get the start, has posted a 17-8-4 record this season.
Boucher defeated Pittsburgh on Dec. 14.
Special Teams Watch
The Penguins (15.9%) come into tonight’s game with their power play a mess. Pittsburgh is 1-for-34 this month and 2 for their last 48.
A few changes will be made to the top unit, with Paul Martin back on the top unit.
Martin and Letang will work the points, with Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz and James Neal down low.
The Flyers boast one of the league’s top penalty kill units (83.8%).
A surprising development for the Flyers this season is that their power play has been very inconsistent. They are clicking at just 16.7%.
The Penguins second line of Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy have combined for 9 goals and 12 assists in their last four games.
— Chris Kunitz is riding a four game points streak, collecting 4 goals and 4 assists during the streak.
— Jordan Staal has rebounded from a horrific game against the Montreal Canadiens on March 12, with points in four straight games. Staal has 3 goals and 4 assists during that span and has collected points in 6 of his last 7 games.
— Tyler Kennedy (17G-22A-39Pts) is one point away from reaching the 40-point plateau for the first time in his career.
Kennedy like his current linemates, has been playing extremely well with 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 4 games.
— Zbynek Michalek has 2 goals and a +6 rating in his last 4 games. Michalek has lowered his plus/minus rating from minus-10 to minus-4 during that span.
— Claude Giroux has 10 points in his last 9 games and has 4 goals in 4 games against Pittsburgh this season.
Neal – Jeffrey – Kovalev
Kunitz – Staal – Kennedy
Conner – Talbot – Dupuis
Rupp – Adams – Asham
Martin – Michalek
Lovejoy – Letang
Niskanen – Engelland
Marc Andre Fleury (31-18-5, 2.38 GAA) to start in goal.
The Flyers will be without top defenseman Chris Pronger who remains sidelined. Forward Jeff Carter is battling a a lower body injury but is expected to play.
Brooks Orpik, Mike Comrie (hip) and Eric Tangradi (concussion) all made the trip for Pittsburgh and participated in the morning skate.
Orpik is very close to returning but will not play tonight. He has missed the past 11 games. Looking like we’ll see him by Sunday afternoon against Florida.
Mark Letestu did not make the trip and will miss his 3rd straight game. Letestu is day-to-day with an upper body injury
Sidney Crosby remains in Pittsburgh going through his daily workout routines.