Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist to extend his league scoring lead and help the Penguins win at home for the 16th time in their last 19 games, a 5-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and seventh of his career for Pittsburgh, which is 9-2-1 in its last 12 and now is tied with the New Jersey Devils atop the Atlantic Division with 96 points. Pittsburgh also moved to within two points of current No. 4 seed Ottawa.
“Finishing second (in the conference as opposed to) finishing fifth for us is a pretty big deal,” said Gary Roberts, who had a goal and two assists.
Sergei Gonchar added two assists and Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone also scored for the Penguins, who are 16-2-1 in their last 19 at home. They have tied for the third-most home victories in club history with 25, and are in a battle for one of the top four seeds and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think everyone feels comfortable playing here,” said Malone, who grew up just south of Pittsburgh. “Obviously, I think the fans are great, the atmosphere. I know guys are coming up to me after the game and they can’t wait to see what the fans are like during the playoffs. I was one of those fans back in the day, when they were winning Cups. It’s an unbelievable feeling, and I can’t wait for the playoffs to start.”
New Jersey, which was off Sunday, holds the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh in the division and has a game in hand.
The Bruins have lost four in a row and seven of nine, and are all but officially eliminated from post-season contention.
The Penguins took control of the game in the first period with three power-play goals after they had killed three Bruins power plays.
“They got three goals on seven shots,” Boston coach Dave Lewis said. “And it really affected our psyche for the rest of the game.”
The Penguins’ three-goal burst came in 5:24. Before that, Pittsburgh had not had three power-play goals in its last six games combined. It had taken 19 periods – plus an overtime – for the Penguins to accumulate their previous three power-play goals.
Boston goalie Tim Thomas was pulled to begin the second period in favour of Joey MacDonald, who didn’t fare much better. Ryan Malone beat him for a shorthanded goal 1:09 into the second on the first shot MacDonald faced.
“I think everybody in this room and everybody in Boston is frustrated right now,” Thomas said.
Crosby made it 5-0 with his 34th goal 4:29 into the final period, eliciting a chant of “M-V-P” from the crowd. He has 111 points, seven more than San Jose’s Joe Thornton.
“He was on fire,” Lewis said.
It was Fleury’s first shutout since Feb. 3 and first time he gave up fewer than two goals in a win since Feb. 6, but he said the fact the Penguins’ 43 wins are the most since posting 49 in 1995-96 is more important.
“Not as much for the shutout, I think, but just to get the win and see that the team is playing real well right before the playoffs,” Fleury said. “I think that’s what’s important. I think everybody’s confident going into the playoffs.”
Notes: Pittsburgh D Mark Eaton returned to the lineup after not having played since March 1 due to a knee injury. … Forty-five of Gonchar’s 63 points this season have come on the power play. He is second in the league in scoring by a defenceman and fourth in overall power-play assists. … Boston C Marc Savard is third in league in assists with 70, but has gone a season-high five games in a row without one. … Pittsburgh rookie C Jordan Staal missed on a chance to match the record for youngest player to score 30 goals. Staal, who has 29 goals, was 18 years, 196 days old Saturday – the same age as Brian Bellows when he scored his 30th for the Minnesota North Stars.