Sunday, March 4, 2007

Pens Sweep Flyers, Take Shootout To Post 4-3 Win

A little history was made at Mellon Arena today when the Penguins swept the archrival Flyers for the first time in the Battle of Pennsylvania over a season.

That's correct. Pittsburgh won all eight meetings against Philadelphia. However, it wasn't easy as the Pens fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits, forcing OT thanks to Erik Christensen's second of the day. He wasn't done either. The underrated forward would beat Flyer netminder Martin Biron for the third time in the shootout on a beautiful forehand deke. Naturally, hats were tossed on the ice even if it didn't count as a hat trick. After Marc-Andre Fleury got a glove on Scottie Upshall's backhand, league-leading scorer Sidney Crosby sealed point number 79 for his club by sliding a backhand thru Biron's legs to wrap it up.

For the moment, it got the Pens within one of Ottawa for fourth in the East. The Senators are currently tied with the Blackhawks at one in the first period at Chicago.

In other action, the Thrashers lead the Hurricanes 2-1 after two periods. Atlanta entered play trailing Tampa Bay by two points for first in the Southeast. A win would tie them with each having 15 games left. For the defending champion Canes, the stakes are a bit higher. Holding the final spot in the East by only a point over Montreal, two more than 10th seeded Toronto and four better than the 11th ranked Rangers, Carolina needs this game big time. After today, they will only have 14 remaining. The Canes are in danger of becoming the first defending champ to miss the postseason in a decade. The last was the 1995-96 Devils, who were eliminated by Ottawa at home on the final day. Ironically, current WFAN color analyst Tom Chorske played a role. If I recall correctly, he scored twice.

While the race in the East is much tighter for those final spots, out West it's a little more decided. After Nashville, Anaheim and Detroit, only three points separate Vancouver, Dallas, Calgary and Minnesota. What makes it so compelling is that the Red Wings are battling the Predators for the top seed. They fell today in OT to the rival Avalanche 4-3. They trail Nashville by a point with 91. Meanwhile, the Ducks continue to lead the Pacific with 87 points, six better than Dallas. The Stars have been playing great hockey of late and could make a run at the division. Out Northwest, it's a little wackier. By virtue of two more victories, the Canucks lead the Flames despite having the same amount of points (79). Right behind them are the Wild, who have 78. It should be a wild race to the finish to see which team prevails and gets home ice.

With their win today in Hockeytown thanks to Brad Richardson's OT winner at 2:41 to complete a nice passing play with Wojtek Wolski, it gave the Avs 69 points. They're still nine out of the final spot which is currently held by Minnesota. It promises to be a daunting task. But even if they don't catch them and qualify for the franchise's 12th consecutive postseason (1995-06), they have to be pretty excited about the future. With solid play from rookies such as Wolski and former 2005 second rounder Paul Stastny, things are looking up for the Avs. As usual, they're getting inspired play from team captain Joe Sakic. He paces them in virtually every offensive category: goals (27), assists (49), points (76), PPG (13), PPP (34).

But while the honorable classy leader of Colorado has done his part, not far behind is Stastny. The son of Hockey Hall of Famer Paul, the former Denver product has been brilliant in his first season. After being up and down for the first half, the former 44th overall selection has evolved into a dangerous offensive player. With much of the focus on talented rookies Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Anze Kopitar, the spotlight has been off. But he finally started to receive some attention when the NHL named him Rookie of the Month for February.

During last month, the 21 year-old freshman became the third rookie in franchise history to register points in at least 13 straight contests. Dad Peter still holds the franchise mark by notching points in 16 consecutive games in 1980-81. Uncle Marian also had a streak of at least 13 in 1981-82. For the month, Paul had 19 points. His strong play continued Sunday when he tallied two assists during the club's 4-3 win over Detroit. It made it 15 straight with at least a point, the longest since Winnipeg's Teemu Selanne in 1992-93. The former Calder winner had points in 17 straight.

Stastny's hot play now places him second in rookie scoring behind Malkin. With 62 points (22-40-62), he should get some Calder consideration. His teammate Wolski also has over 40 points. The former first round selection in 2004 has contributed 19 goals and 22 assists thus far. What the play of both these roookies have done is keep Colorado competitive. Keep an eye on both in the future.

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