The Pittsburgh Penguins continued their home dominance of the New York Rangers with a 4-3 victory Sunday afternoon.
Counting the playoffs, the Penguins are 13-0-2 against the Rangers in their past 15 home games. The home team has been the dominant team in the season series and has won each game in the season series this year.
The win closed out a 10-1-2 March for Pittsburgh, who improved to 5-1-1on their current eight game home stand; the Penguins are 9-1-1 in their past 11 home games.
The win also improved the Pens record under interim coach Dan Bylsma to 14-2-3.
Pittsburgh is quickly becoming the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins are playing the best hockey of anyone in the NHL right now, and there appears to be no signs of slowing down.
"I think as a team we've been playing well, and we just need to continue playing well in the last six games and into the playoffs," Ruslan Fedotenko said, who had a goal and two assists on the afternoon. "That's the most important thing, to get on kind of a hot streak going into the playoffs."
Hot is an understatement.
Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner with 10:04 remaining in the third period to extend his point streak to 15 games.
"He's a go-to guy," Pittsburgh's Max Talbot said, who had a goal and an assist. "He always wants those big goals, and he got it again tonight. It's definitely two huge points for us."
Their win brings them to 90-points on the season—this ties Pittsburgh with Philadelphia, who still has three games in hand on the Pens, for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Evgeni Malkin recorded an assist to add to his NHL-best 107-points and continue his case for the Hart Trophy. Barring a total collapse, or an extremely hot finish by Alex Ovechkin, Malkin should win not only the Hart Trophy, but the Art Ross Trophy as well.
Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be the catalyst for the Pens. He stopped 26 of 29 shots on the afternoon and raised his win total to 31 for the season.
Say what you want about the coaching and/or style change the Pens have under gone with Bylsma, but Fleury has been playing better hockey and that’s one of the primary reasons the Pens have been winning; before Byslma took over for Michael Therrien, the Penguins were giving up a full goal per game more than they were last season.
"We got contributions from all the players," Talbot said. "Guys like Sid, Malkin and Billy Guerin are always the leaders out there, but it's nice to get goals from third- and fourth-liners."
The third and fourth liners were big contributors on Sunday.
Fedotenko recorded a goal and two assists, Talbot scored a goal and recorded an assist, Matt Cooke scored a goal and Tyler Kennedy and Rob Scuderi recorded assists.
These contributions are huge for any team trying to make a playoff push. The more contributions you get, the further you go.
Another thing that has given the Pens a leg up is the recent acquisitions of Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.
Both Kunitz and Guerin have gelled on a line with Crosbybetter than anyone could have expected. Kunitz has 13-points (6g, 7a) in 13 games, and Guerin has 10-points (3g, 7a) in 10 games.
It’s bad enough for opponents when the top two lines are clicking for Pittsburgh, but now that their third and fourth lines are producing as well, they will pose serious matchup problems for whomever they face in the first round of the playoffs.
What has continued to give the Pens trouble is their power play.
Pittsburgh was 0-9 on the power play against the Rangers.
The Penguins are tied for 12th among the 16 current playoff-positioned teams in power play efficiency at 17.1 percent. The importance of being able to score with the man-advantage goes without saying.
Despite proving that they can win without power play efficiency, when the level of intensity rises for the playoffs, even-strength goals become that much more difficult to come by.
The Penguins, currently sixth in the NHL in goals scored, will need their power play if they hope to make a run through the playoffs similar to that of last season.
As of now, Pittsburgh can rest easy. A season that was once in danger of ending without a playoff appearance is quickly becoming one of high expectations.
Pittsburgh has suddenly gone from goat, to cup-contender in the matter of a month.