Penguins gear up for playoffs as Thrashers pay visit
THRASHERS (34-32-12) at PENGUINS (44-26-7)
Atlanta 6-3-1; Pittsburgh 4-4-2
This is the third of four meetings. On Nov. 21, the Penguins took a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes and held on for a 3-2 road win. Martin Skoula scored twice, Evgeni Malkin
added a goal and Marc-Andre Fleury
made 31 saves. On Jan. 5, both teams combined to score 5 goals in the second period and the Penguins prevailed 5-2 at home. Jordan Staal
scored twice as Pittsburgh ended a five-game losing streak. These teams last meet on April 10 at Atlanta.
The Penguins have punched their ticket to the playoffs, and the Thrashers are still chasing theirs. Atlanta is attempting to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, and first since 2006-07.
Atlanta is wrapping up a three-game road trip that previously included stops in Toronto (3-2 win) and Washington (2-1 loss).
The Thrashers suffered a heart-breaking loss against the Capitals on Thursday, squandering an opportunity to pick up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race on a night Boston and Philadelphia also lost.
Tim Stapleton, playing his fourth game with the team after getting called up from AHL Chicago, scored the only goal for the Thrashers. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made 22 saves in the loss.
"It happened to us again," center Nik Antropov told the Journal-Constitution. "We had an opportunity to jump out of ninth place, and we couldn't do it. It's frustrating. We played a pretty good game, and we have something to build on. But there are only four games left, and we are running out of chances."
This is the second game of a four-game homestand that began with a 2-0 loss against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
In a showdown of two of the NHL’s leading goal scorers -- Sidney Crosby
and Steven Stamkos -- Lightning goalie Mike Smith made sure the contest was a low-scoring affair, stopping 27 shots. Stamkos scored his 46th goal to pull within one of Crosby, and the Penguins lost for the fourth time in six games.
"It was pretty bad. There's no sugar coating it or trying to make something positive out of it, we didn't do anything that was positive," Crosby said. "We weren't ready to play. We thought we were going to play a team that laid down and isn't going to go to the playoffs, and we were just going to show up. Clearly, it didn't happen."
Malkin (bruised right foot) missed his fifth consecutive game and seventh in eight contests, and defenseman Sergei Gonchar (strep throat) sat out his fourth in a row.
For the Thrashers, Niclas Bergfors has a goal and 2 assists in four games, and Antropov has 2 goals and an assist in three games. … For the Penguins, Crosby has 2 goals and 4 assists in four games, Alexei Ponikarovsky has 3 assists in four games, Jordan Leopold has 3 assists in four games, and Matt Cooke
has 2 goals in three games.
For the Thrashers, Evander Kane (foot) and Christoph Schubert (hip) are day-to-day, and Boris Valabik (knee) is on injured reserve. … For the Penguins, Malkin (foot) and Gonchar (illness) are day-to-day.
Since Dan Bylsma became coach last season, the Penguins are 62-29-11 in the regular season and 33-12-5 at home. … The Penguins have 12 players with double digits in goals -- the most in the NHL. … Staal is three games from playing in 300 consecutive contests, all with Pittsburgh. …. After today, the Penguins have only two more regular season games remaining at Mellon Arena, their original home since 1967 and the oldest rink in the NHL. The team will move into the new Consol Energy Center beginning next season. … The Thrashers have played in the most one-goal games in the NHL this year -- 43. Their record in those contests is 16-15-12. … Bergfors is one of three NHL rookies with 20-plus goals and 40-plus points. He has scored 8-8-16 in 23 games with Atlanta since being acquired in a trade from New Jersey earlier this season.
"If there's any guy in here who believes that that's the way we're supposed to play, then … " -- Crosby to the Post-Gazette following Wednesday's 2-0 loss against Tampa Bay