PHILADELPHIA – Battered by injury and suspension, the Penguins are still fighting for first.
Even without injured stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they might nab the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Chris Kunitz and Alex Kovalev each scored shootout goals to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 win over the slumping Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
“We still have a long way to go to get ahead of them here,” centre Jordan Staal said, “but it’s always a good feeling to come into this barn and walk away with two points.”
The Penguins are in second place in the Atlantic with 94 points and eight games left. The Flyers lead the division and the Eastern Conference with 98 points and nine games remaining.
The Flyers and Penguins play each other one more time on March 24.
“We’re still in the fight for first place, and I think we played great tonight,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “But we’re going to need more of that.”
Alex Kovalev scored the first shootout goal. He was matched by Philadelphia’s Danny Briere. Kunitz got the final shootout attempt through the legs of Sergei Bobrovsky for the winner.
Philadelphia’s Mike Richards and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Kennedy scored in regulation.
The Penguins have won four of five to get back into the race. They are without forward Matt Cooke, who was suspended by the NHL for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs—a minimum of 14 games.
The Flyers played in their fourth straight shootout and reached overtime for the fifth time in six games. They have won only one of those games that needed extra time and are losing their grip on the conference lead.
“Sometimes I feel like we play a good game,” Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen said, “but we can’t bounce back. That’s a big worry for me because in the playoffs, you play one game, you have to put it behind you (and) focus on the next game.”
The worn-down Flyers looked tired in overtime. The Penguins simply dominated and had possession for nearly the entire 5-minute period as they attacked a battered Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, who had 30 saves, clearly redeemed himself with a stellar outing in the loss.
Bobrovsky had a rough game Tuesday and was yanked after allowing three goals on nine shots. Flyers fans chanted “Booooosh” as Brian Boucher skated onto the ice. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette hasn’t committed to a playoff starter, but returning to Bobrovsky a game after a clunker could be a sign he’s leaning toward the rookie.
“We got beat in most areas,” Laviolette said. “If it weren’t for our goaltender, we wouldn’t have gotten any points tonight.”
Bobrovsky made a stellar save early in the first period when he got low and staved off Kennedy with his left pad. Bobrovsky, who beat the Penguins on opening night, wouldn’t get lucky against him a second time.
Kennedy took the cross-ice pass from Kunitz and snapped a wrist shot from the circle and beat Bobrovsky glove side on the power play for his 18th goal of the season that tied the game 1-1.
Flyers fans had given Bobrovsky a standing ovation after his stellar save on Kennedy.
The Flyers scored first when Richards scored a tricky goal that needed a review late in the first. The puck hit skate-stick-net and took a fluky bounce over Fleury’s shoulder for the early lead.
The Flyers took only 20 shots and couldn’t sustain a consistent attack.
For a heated rivalry—and with the season winding down—this game was pretty mild. Only a few brief skirmishes were quickly broken up and each team had two power-play chances.
Kunitz provided enough excitement for the Penguins on the final shot of the shootout. He faked Bobrovsky with a wrist shot, then snapped one through the legs for the winner.
“With their crowd going, you knew it was a big-game atmosphere,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “So this was big. They still got a point, but we made up some ground and we need that.”
Notes: Penguins C Dustin Jeffrey left with a lower-body injury atthe end of the second period after a nasty collision with Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter. Jeffrey will be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh on Friday. Bylsma had no guess how long Jeffrey would be out. … The Penguins lead the season series 3-2. … The Flyers have led the East since Jan. 8.