PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Pittsburgh Penguins had made it a goal to hold one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots by the All-Star break.
With an emphatic win in their final game before the five-day league layoff, the Penguins achieved just that.
Evgeni Malkin had five assists, Sergei Gonchar had three assists and Jarkko Ruutu scored on a penalty shot goal for the Penguins, who moved into a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m not going to lie to you; we wanted to get there before the break,” Recchi said. “And we got to that goal. Guys were talking about it and paying attention to it. Now we can enjoy our break.”
Recchi, who also added an assist, recorded the seventh hat trick of his career in a span of 16:57, starting late in the first period. His most recent was March 4 against Carolina, where he was traded five days later before re-signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent in the offseason.
The Penguins, who enter the All-Star break 3-0-1 in their last four games, were 5-for-10 on the power play.
“We were really into it starting the game and the execution was there with the puck,” Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. “The guys stuck to the plan and it was a great team effort.”
Toronto’s Jeff O’Neill scored the first goal 3:19 into the game on a power play.
But from there it was all Pittsburgh as Jordan Staal scored the first of seven straight goals 1:31 later. He tipped in a pass from Malkin while going hard to the net. Malkin has five goals and seven assists during a five-game point streak.
“I’m feeling much more comfortable right now,” said Malkin through a translator. “I feel the size of the ice much better and I’m feeling much more comfortable now.”
The Penguins took the lead for good with 11:30 left in the first on Ruutu’s penalty shot.
Ruutu, who hadn’t scored since the season opener, was pulled off his skates by Carlo Colaiacovo on a breakway against Toronto goalie Andrew Raycroft. On the penalty shot, Ruutu faked a forehand shot to freeze Raycroft before tucking the puck into the net with the backhand.
Recchi made it 3-1 with 2:32 to play in the opening period when Ryan Whitney’s centering pass deflected off his skate and into the net.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, if you’re out there moving your feet and keeping the puck moving forward and not making mistakes,” Crosby said, “you’re going to get your chances and (tonight) we did a great job putting them in when we got them.”
Recchi’s second of the game and 13th of the season came midway through the second off a pass from Crosby. His third came at 14:25 of the second from Crosby and Gonchar. That was Recchi’s 498th career goal and his 1,306th point in his 1,302nd NHL game.
“I feel great out there,” Recchi said. “And obviously when you’re getting great passes like that out there, it makes it a little bit easier.”
“Overall our play was not very good tonight,” Toronto captain Mats Sundin said. “I thought the first five minutes we played well. We looked good at the beginning tonight because we knew how important this game was for us. (But) we took too many penalties, and Pittsburgh took advantage of it.”
The Penguins matched their season-high in goals—done twice against Philadelphia—and the six-goal margin of victory matches the 8-2 Pittsburgh win over the Flyers Oct. 28. The Maple Leafs also have 50 points to join the Rangers and Penguins in a tie for eighth.
“The only good thing about this is today is that we’ll get off the plane and take a little break,” Toronto coach Paul Maurice said.
Notes@: Pittsburgh is 3-for-4 on penalty shots this season. RW Nils Ekman scored Dec. 7 against the Rangers, Staal converted one Oct. 21 versus Columbus and Staal’s attempt was saved by the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist Nov. 25. … Ouellet has a five-game point streak, Recchi has a four-game point streak and Whitney has an assist in each of his last five contests. … Toronto had won seven in a row in Pittsburgh until a 4-1 defeat here Dec. 29.