PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins reached a milestone, sewed up home-ice advantage when the playoffs start and drew the ire of another divisional opponent on a busy Thursday night.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves to tie the Pittsburgh franchise record for wins and the Penguins clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Pittsburgh earned the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference for the fourth consecutive season and will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. It was in the aftermath of a 6-4 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday that Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Penguins counterpart Dan Bylsma “gutless” and Philadelphia forward Daniel Briere said Joe Vitale was “trying to hurt me” after a late-game check.
After Thursday’s game, Rangers coach John Tortorella was even more scathing, calling the Penguins “one of the most arrogant organizations in the league” during a profanity-laden tirade following Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik’s knee-to-knee hit on New York centre Derek Stepan.
“It’s a cheap, dirty hit,” Tortorella said. “I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. So I’m anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just not respect amongst players. None. It’s sickening.”
Orpik was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct on the play.
“They whine about this stuff all of the time, and look what happens?” Tortorella said. “It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they?”
One of those stars Tortorella was referring to, Evgeni Malkin, had his 49th goal Thursday. He added an assist to give him 107 points and extend his lead on Steven Stamkos in the scoring race to 11 points with one game to play.
Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang also each had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh.
Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov scored for the Rangers, who were playing for the first time since clinching the top seed in the conference. New York and Vancouver Canucks, which lost in regulation, are tied for the most points in the NHL (109).
New York rested Henrik Lundqvist for the first time in 11 games after he sustained a swollen right forearm during Tuesday’s victory against Philadelphia. Lundqvist said after the morning skate that if the game was crucial that he would have played.
The Rangers gave no update on the condition of Stepan, who remained on the bench but did not play after the hit from Orpik.
Bylsma compared the hit to one Letang received from Dallas’ Eric Nystrom last month. Nystrom was not fined or suspended by the league.
“You see here where (Stepan) jumps out of the way and Brooks is on his track and looking to hit the guy at an angle, and he trying to get out of the way creates that scenario,” Bylsma said.
Orpik was not available to reporters after the game.
Almost lost in the postgame insults was Fleury tying Tom Barrasso with his 226th victory for the Penguins. Fleury’s 42nd win of the season is one behind the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne for the league lead.
“A great honour for me to catch up to a guy like that who’s been on top and won a couple Stanley Cups,” Fleury said.
Kunitz picked up his 200th assist on Malkin’s 49th goal with 10:54 left that elicited chants of “M-V-P” from the Penguins’ 250th consecutive sellout crowd. Pascal Dupuis assisted on Richard Park’s second-period goal to his point streak to 16 games, longest in the NHL this season.
Tyler Kennedy also scored for the Penguins (50-25-6), who reached 50 wins for the second time in franchise history.
But the Rangers had little to play for other than possibly winning their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1993-94 or to make runs over their final two games at breaking team records for wins and points established during that Stanley Cup season.
New York was clearly not pleased at perhaps losing their fourth-leading goal-scorer in Stepan in what was a virtually meaningless game.
“It was pretty gutless and dirty, and (Orpik) is known for sticking his knee out and his elbow out,” Rangers goalie Martin Biron said. “I don’t really care what he says in defence of what he did, it was dirty.
“It was what (Orpik’s) done all his career, and he’s going to continue to do that unless somebody just gets him either with a suspension or whatever. Those are hits that aren’t going to be in the game much longer because it’s very dangerous.”
Kunitz’s career-high 25th goal came at 1:11 of the first. Dubinsky tied it 3:12 later when he slammed home a rebound of a Ruslan Fedotenko shot, his 10th, but Kennedy gave Pittsburgh the lead for good 8:27 into the game with his 11th of the season and fifth in his past 10 games.
Park—in the lineup only because wingers James Neal and Steve Sullivan were not because of lower-body injuries—made it 3-1 with his seventh at 5:11 of the second.
Anisimov’s goal came during a five-minute power play with 2:14 left, but Letang answered with an empty-netter at 19:11.
The Penguins beat the Rangers for the fourth consecutive time this season and won for the third time in their past four games.
“Both teams played pretty hard to make sure they’re playing good playoff hockey going into the playoffs,” Crosby said.
NOTES: The game was the 500th of Biron’s career. He’s won only 13 of 35 career decisions against Pittsburgh. … The Penguins announced their season team awards throughout the game during stoppages. Malkin was selected most valuable player. … The announced crowd of 18,585 set a new Penguins season attendance record of 742,608—with one game remaining. … The Rangers had won their previous four on the road and five of their previous six in Pittsburgh. … When leading after two periods, the Penguins are 31-0-3 this season. … Pittsburgh D Matt Niskanen (upper-body injury) did not play.