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Penguins clinch playoffs as Malkin, Neal overshadow Radulov’s return

Mar 22, 2012, 9:49 PM EDT

Thursday night was supposed to be all about Alexander Radulov‘s return to the Nashville Predators, but it’s pretty tough to steal the Pittsburgh Penguins’ thunder – even when you score.

Radulov provided the Predators’ lone goal as the Penguins dominated the game, winning 5-1 – and thus becoming the East’s second team to clinch a playoff spot – thanks in large part to another outstanding performance from Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

Penguins pound Preds

Malkin scored his 44 and 45th goals of the season, giving him a stunning seven goals and four assists in his last five games. Malkin has nine games left to get the five tallies needed for 50, which would defy my (seemingly reasonable?) guess that Steven Stamkos would be this season’s only 50-goal guy. Geno now has a whopping 95 points in just 66 games, making it hard to deny the crowd’s logic in chanting “M-V-P!” tonight.

Neal wasn’t exactly chopped liver, either, collecting four assists for the game’s first star nod. Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist) and Kris Letang (two helpers) also played a big part in the win, with the only “bummer” being that Sidney Crosby went without a point.

(It looked like Crosby “finally” scored his first goal of his second return, but Kunitz received credit for the goal as the puck deflected off of a Predators’ skate instead.)

Radulov under review

Radulov did get his goal, but a -2 rating and just two shots on goal show that he didn’t have a super-busy return. He appeared in just under 16 minutes (15:54 time on ice), but it’ll probably be fairer to judge his work this weekend, when the Predators host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and start a three-game road trip by visiting the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (which you can watch on NBC Sports Network).

Atlantic race update

As I mentioned before, the Penguins are now guaranteed a playoff spot. Here’s what the Atlantic title battle looks like now:

Rangers: 99 points, 43 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Penguins: 98 points, 37 regulation/OT wins, nine games left
Flyers: 94 points, 39 regulation/OT wins, eight games left

It’s likely that the Flyers (who beat the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a shootout tonight, more on that soon) are out of the mix at this point, although they’ll face the Penguins two more times this season.

Honestly, one cannot help but wonder if it might all come down to an April 5 home game against the Rangers. New York holds tiebreaker advantages so the Penguins almost certainly need to finish with one more point to win the division, but that contest could represent the difference if the two teams remain neck-and-neck down the stretch.

Just ask the Predators how easy it is to stick with the Penguins.

  1. govtminion2 - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    So this is what a dynasty looks like. Soupcan Sid and his army are impossible to defeat right now. James “makesurmom” Neal is burying pucks with ease while Geno Pringles makes hockey look like a Harlem Globe Trotters Game. Gonna be tough for anyone to hang with The Franchise in a 7 game series

  2. govtminion2 - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    Most Valuable Pringles

  3. philly4lyfe - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:04 PM

    The flyers have 2 games left vs Pittsburg and 1 vs the rangers and bryz is 9-1-1 since the beginning of march with a 1.23 gaa and setting a franchise record for consecutive shutout streak. I wouldn’t hand it to the pens or rangers just yet.

    • m1k3g - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:52 PM

      Talking about Bryzgalov’s season by mentioning his last 10 games is like assessing OJ Simpson as a person and not including anything that happened after 1993.

  4. jaybaileys - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    Philly,

    Your point is noted, however the Pens are 24-5-2 in their last 30 or so games, 9-1-1 is nice, but the Pens are 10-0-1 in their last 11. I just hope they aren’t peaking too soon like in 92-93. I’m looking forward to the 3 left with Philly and NY.

  5. bobhpine - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    when is the part where we remind ourselves that the flyers always fail in the playoffs?

  6. lemieux00066 - Mar 22, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    The Flyers always take care of that part.

  7. crosberries - Mar 23, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  8. iluvwikileaks - Mar 23, 2012 at 6:17 AM

    The last time the Flyers won the Cup, John Denver, Tony Orlando & Dawn, and The Captain & Tenille were still making #1 hit records.

    GO PENGUINS!!

  9. writeit22 - Mar 23, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    Some worthy opponents ahead- the Whole Penguin Team and my favourites Crosby, Fluery, Staal, Dupuis, Kunnitz, Malkin and the whole team of Champions are in a super winning streak; Ok competitors might look good ….the rest of season will be just like the last winter Olympics- Got FLuery-peerless-got Staal, Got Sydney Crosby- the Whole Penguins pure Champions- Is the Stanley cup heavy?

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