ATLANTA – Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma believes the Penguins’ power play is getting playoff-ready.
The Penguins scored with a man advantage for the third straight game in a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday, giving hope to a power play that managed just three goals in 65 chances over a 20-game stretch.
“We made some changes on the power play and we have seen some good things that have made us dangerous,” Bylsma said. “We have found something that is working.”
Tyler Kennedy scored the first of Pittsburgh’s four second-period goals, reserve goalie Brent Johnson won his fourth straight decision, and the Penguins closed the regular season by taking care of the already-eliminated Thrashers.
Pascal Dupuis, Michael Rupp and rookie Mark Letestu added goals to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead 18:14 into the second. Kennedy’s 21st goal came on a power play. Mike Comrie sealed the win with an empty-net goal that made it 5-1, and Ben Lovejoy finished with three assists.
The Thrashers, who missed the playoffs for the 10th time in their 11-year history, scored twice on power plays. Andrew Ladd’s 29th goal came on a two-man advantage to make it 1-0 early. Tim Stapleton added his fifth to cut the deficit to 4-2 with 6:45 left in the game.
Pittsburgh, which will face Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, closed the regular season with its 49th victory—tying the 1995-96 Penguins for second-most in a single season. The Penguins’ 24th road win tied the 1992-93 team, also for second-most.
The Penguins closed the regular season with 44 points during a 35-game stretch in which injured star centres Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) played just nine total shifts of one game.
“It’s never good to lose regular guys,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said, “but the guys who were called up did a really good job.”
Winning for the 12th time in 13 games against the Thrashers, Pittsburgh was without its top two goal scorers and points leaders on the active roster as Chris Kunitz and James Neal were scratched.
Bylsma also gave top goalie Marc-Andre Fleury the day off. Johnson filled in well, making 37 saves and improving to 13-5-3.
The Penguins tied it 1-1 when Eric Tangradi moved into the crease to screen goalie Chris Mason and help Kennedy score with a shot to the stick side 6:25 into the second.
Lovejoy, a defenceman on Kennedy’s goal, believes Tangradi’s move showed the kind of awareness Pittsburgh’s power play will need in the post-season. Tampa Bay’s penalty-killing unit ranks eighth in the NHL.
“We have had a great year, but we wanted to go into the playoffs a hot team,” Lovejoy said. “With the win tonight and (Friday), we are going into facing Tampa Bay and playing our best hockey.”
Dupuis’ 17th goal gave the Penguins the lead for good at 10:53. As teammate Max Talbot stopped suddenly in the left circle to freeze defenceman Mark Stuart, Dupuis took the puck at the bottom of the slot and beat Mason.
Eric Godard used the backboards to pass from right to left behind the net to Rupp for his ninth goal, an easy wristshot.
Letestu’s 14th goal came on a forehand from the bottom of the right circle. The puck glanced in off Mason’s skate.
Pittsburgh, which began the game slightly ahead of Washington for the NHL’s top penalty-killing unit, turned aside three of five short-handed situations.
A fan threw a drink onto the ice in Atlanta’s zone after Pittsburgh defenceman Zbynek Michalek appeared to reach forward on Bryan Little’s breakaway to trip the Atlanta centre. No penalty was called.
The Thrashers closed the season with two straight losses and four defeats in five.
“Disappointment,” Ladd said. “We had a goal this season and weren’t able to reach that goal. Everybody in here should realize it’s not good enough.”
NOTES: Mason made 15 saves. … Tangradi, who assisted on Letestu’s goal, played in his first game since Feb. 11. He missed 16 games because of a concussion sustained in a brawl-filled game against the New York Islander and was a healthy scratch the last eight. … Ladd’s goal was his first point in four games against the Penguinsthis season. … Pittsburgh improved to 15-5-2 at Philips Arena.