Aggressive play helped the Pittsburgh Penguins open their final homestand at Mellon Arena on a positive note. The defending Stanley Cup champs are looking for an even better effort in their next contest.
In a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division, the Penguins seek to win consecutive games for the first time in three weeks Sunday, when they face a Toronto Maple Leafs club playing at a high level belying its poor overall record.
Pittsburgh (43-25-7), which will move into the new Consol Energy Center next season, snapped a three-game slide and began the final six-game homestand at its 49-year-old arena - also known as the Igloo - Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia. The Penguins are among the league leaders with 3.00 goals per game, but had not scored more than three in any of their previous nine contests.
“All of our goals were a result of going to the net, crashing there and getting second chances,” coach Dan Bylsma said after Pittsburgh clinched its fourth consecutive playoff berth. “That’s what you have to do. We played in the offensive zone for long periods, but it wasn’t perfect and we can get better.”
Saturday’s victory, coupled with New Jersey’s 4-2 win at Montreal, left the Penguins and Devils tied for first in the Atlantic with 93 points. The Penguins, though, have one fewer victory and are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Winning two straight for the first time since a four-game run March 2-7 could be a challenge against a hot opponent.
Toronto (28-35-12) has a conference-worst 68 points, but has won nine of 12. The Maple Leafs fell behind 2-0 in the first period Saturday at home against the New York Rangers, but rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory. Tomas Kaberle(notes) scored the game-tying goal with 3:35 left in regulation and Nikolai Kulemin’s(notes) wraparound 39 seconds into the extra session gave the Maple Leafs their first victory of the season when trailing after two periods.
Rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson(notes) has been a major reason for Toronto’s late-season surge. The 25-year-old Swede turned away 36 shots Saturday and became the first Maple Leafs goalie to win seven consecutive starts since Ed Belfour(notes) from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, 2003.
“The more you win, the more confident you get,” said Gustavsson, who made 35 saves in his only appearance against Pittsburgh - a 4-1 home loss Jan. 9. “It’s still hard work. You can’t just lean back and think you’re going to win just by going out there. You maybe have to prepare maybe even harder when you win a couple in a row to stay in focus.
“I just have to keep playing the best I can the rest of the games.”
Crosby, though, had three assists Saturday, giving him 11 in 13 games since the Olympic break. He has four goals in three games versus the Maple Leafs this season.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin(notes) is questionable for Sunday after missing five of the last six games with a bruised right foot. He has five goals and 13 assists in an eight-game point streak against Toronto.
The Maple Leafs, who have won their last two visits to Pittsburgh by an 11-6 margin, are also going for their third straight road victory overall. They’d dropped 18 of their previous 21 away from Air Canada Centre.