After losing two in a row to Detroit and Washington, the Pittsburgh Penguins have taken back first place in the Atlantic with wins over Philadelphia and Toronto.
The Penguins are now two points up on New Jersey but the Devils still hold one game in hand along with the tie-breaker.
Sidney Crosby had a combined five points in the two games as he is doing his best to make up for the absence of Evgeni Malkin.
Pittsburgh made their case as the best team in Pennsylvania on Saturday with a 4-1 win against Philadelphia.
With the win, the Pens officially qualified for the playoffs. Ruslan Fedotenko, among others, is producing with Malkin out of the line-up and this will need to continue so Pittsburgh can fight off the Devils.
Sunday night Pittsburgh held of Toronto in a shootout after Matt Cooke tied the game with three minutes left in third. J.S Giguere and Fleury both played stellar games but in the end, Fleury came out on top in the shootout.
Crosby got things started in the shootout when he scored for the eight-time on ten attempts while Pascal Dupuis finished things off with a shot off the left post in the third round to end it.
Malkin continues to sit out of the line-up which is leading me to believe his injury is worse than what Pittsburgh is leading on. The former Conn Smythe winner has played in only one game since his “bruised foot/ankle injury” happened in a game against Tampa Bay on March 14.
It is quite possible Malkin could have torn something in his foot and Pittsburgh has gone into Hush-Hush mode with the playoffs brewing.
Along with the Russian sniper missing in action, fellow countrymen Sergei Gonchar missed his third straight game with illness. Illness? Does he have pneumonia? There are not too many illness’ that will make an NHL player miss five days of action.
Is it possible something else could be plaguing the Russian defencemen? Absolutely.
But whatever the severity of these two players, Pittsburgh should let them get healed completely or at least as good as it’s going to get before bringing them back. If that means sitting them until the playoffs again so be it.
Ideally, you would like to have both players play a few games before going into playoff hockey but if it is in there best interest for them to sit, then so be it.
Almost every player on Pittsburgh has playoff experience (including the newcomers) so Dan Bylsma does not need to worry about chemistry falling apart.
The Pens continue their current six-game home stand with games against the Lightning and Thrashers next week. Hopefully one, if not both Malkin and Gonchar can come back this week.
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Written by Amit Mann