The Pittsburgh Penguins can admit it now. The regular season is kind of a drag.
Being the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions creates a target on your back that’s impossible to shake. An NHL-high 19 back-to-backs left them spent. A sluggish first half forced them to focus.
No matter. The Penguins survived. And now they’re heading to the playoffs with momentum and home-ice advantage in the opening round. A legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup three-peat awaits.
Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel banked in goals off Craig Anderson minutes apart in the second period Johnny Damon Jersey , Casey DeSmith stopped 34 shots and the Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators 4-0 on Friday night to clinch second place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh will begin its quest to become the first team in 35 years to win three consecutive Cups at home next week against Columbus, New Jersey or Philadelphia.
”I think down the stretch we had to play in some big games,” said Crosby, who played in all 82 games for the first time in his career. ”I think that mentality and things like that prepare you for the playoffs. I think we did a good job, won some close games and got some important points.”
Phil Kessel got his 34th goal and Patric Hornqvist pushed his career-high to 29 when he beat Anderson late in the third period for the Penguins, who reached the 100-point plateau for the third straight year and ninth time in 11 seasons.
Not bad for a team that found itself in 10th place in the Eastern Conference in early January.
”This has been a challenging year for us in a lot of ways,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”What I love about this group is when the stakes get high, we play at our best.”
Anderson finished with 19 saves but was beaten twice from behind the goal line in the second period as the Senators lost for the ninth time in 11 games.
Crosby was standing just off the right post when he fired a shot that smacked off Anderson’s left pad and into the net 1:25 into the second period. The move is becoming a signature for the two-time MVP.
”Unfortunate, but we’ve seen him do that before,” Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci said. ”He’s a skilled player and can make that play from behind the net.”
Guentzel scored from nearly the same spot just over six minutes later, flicking a rebound off the end boards that hit Anderson’s left leg and skittered in for his 22nd of the season.
That was more than enough for DeSmith, given the start a night after top goaltender Matt Murray played in a draining overtime victory over the Blue Jackets. DeSmith was sharp throughout while picking up his first career shutout, and by the time Kessel took a slick feed from Riley Sheahan and fired it into the open net 6:55 into the third the Penguins could turn their attention to the postseason.
”If we can play that kind of defense in the playoffs Greg Bird Jersey , we’ll win a lot of games,” DeSmith said. ”Hopefully it carries over.”
Ottawa and Pittsburgh met in the Eastern Conference finals 10 months ago, with the Penguins winning on an overtime goal in Game 7 before going on to beat Nashville for the franchise’s fifth Cup. The Senators hoped it would be a springboard to becoming perennial contenders. Instead they will miss the postseason for the third time in five years.
””It’s tough right now with the guys we’re missing, but it just allows other guys to step up and fill in,” Ceci said. ”It’s a great opportunity for them.”
While Ottawa will head home for the spring and summer this weekend, the Penguins will take aim at history now that the long six-month slog of the regular season is behind them.
”We’re looking forward to the fun part of the season,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. ”We’re ready to make another run at it.”
NOTES: Both the Senators and Penguins wore a butterfly decal with the initials ”JP” on the back of their helmets to honor an Ottawa-area teen and longtime Senators fan who died this week due to a rare and debilitating skin condition. Jonathan Pitre, 17, was nicknamed ””Butterfly Boy” and developed a close relationship with the team after sharing his battle with epidermolysis bullosa. … Kessel played in all 82 games this season and has played in 692 consecutive games, the third-longest active ironman streak in the league. … The victory was head coach Mike Sullivan’s 200th in the NHL. … The Penguins finished the regular season 68 for 260 on the power play (26.2 percent). The percentage was the best in franchise history, passing the 26.0 percent mark set in 1995-96.
Senators: Finish up the season in Boston on Saturday.
Penguins: The first round of the playoffs next week. Pittsburgh has won at least one playoff series in four of the last five seasons.
More NHL hockey: Bobby Wilson helped Kyle Gibson turn around his pitching after a rough first inning. Then, for at least one afternoon, the veteran catcher fixed his own struggles at the plate.
Wilson went 2-for-3 with three RBIs Cheap Nick Chubb Jersey , Gibson recovered from a shaky first to throw seven innings, and the Twins beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 on Saturday.
Max Kepler homered in his second straight game to help send the Twins to their third win in a row.
”You take them any way you can get them,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. ”We haven’t had the luxury of any kind of run here as of late, so to start out the home stand with three, it feels pretty good.”
The Twins didn’t bring in Wilson for his offense – his two-hit day raised his batting average to .134 – so they’re not expecting him to deliver game-turning hits on a regular basis. But that’s exactly what he did with an RBI single in the fifth that made it 3-2, and a two-RBI double the next inning that proved the game-winner.
It was Wilson’s first multi-hit game since Sept. 21, 2016.
”I feel like I’ve been doing everything I can defensively but it’s time to start turning that corner and start contributing offensively as well,” Wilson said.
Earlier in the day, the team needed Wilson’s smarts behind the plate to recover from an early hole.
Gibson (3-6) allowed three runs in the first inning – including a two-run homer by Chris Davis – but only gave up two hits after that while striking out nine. It was Gibson’s highest strikeout total since fanning 10 batters on April 26 against the New York Yankees.
”After the first inning we sat down and I said `Gibby talk to me, what do we got to do? What’s going to turn this around?’ So we talked about a few things and we kind of stuck with that game plan for the rest of the game,” Wilson said.
Kepler’s solo shot off Kevin Gausman sparked a three-run fifth that tied it. Wilson’s two-run double off Miguel Castro (2-5) in the sixth gave Minnesota the lead for good.
Trevor Hildenberger worked a scoreless eighth for the Twins. Jace Peterson’s RBI double off Fernando Rodney pulled the Orioles to 5-4, but Rodney got Tim Beckham on a grounder to short to convert his 19th save in 24 chances.
The team with baseball’s worst record, meanwhile Youth Kareem Martin Jersey , lost its fifth in the row and fell 40 games below .500.
”It’s kind of hard to believe that’s where we’re at right now,” Davis said. ”I feel like anytime we start to build some momentum, we either give it right back to the other team or we do something to kind of take ourselves out of the game.”
That certainly seemed the case Saturday.
Coming off his best start of the season against the L.A. Angels, Gausman had a 3-0 lead before ever taking the mound and looked sharp early. Gausman faced the minimum number of batters through the first three innings, and allowed a single hit through the first four.
But things turned quickly in the fifth. With one out, Kepler homered to left-center, Robbie Grossman doubled, and Jake Cave and Wilson followed with singles. After Joe Mauer walked, Cave scored on a wild pitch to tie the game.
”I don’t think I really got away from anything. They just did a good job of battling and put some long at-bats together, and fought some pitches off and really got my pitch count off.”
Gausman, who held the Angels to one run and two hits without a walk in eight innings last Sunday, didn’t return for the sixth.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the third with two outs, but Gibson struck out Danny Valencia swinging to end the threat. After that Dolphins Jerome Baker Jersey , Gibson allowed a leadoff double to Jonathan Schoop before retiring 10 in a row.
”We scored three in the first and then just didn’t do anything,” manager Buck Showalter said. We had a chance to open it up there, but that’s the hit that’s been eluding us to really get to that five or six-run lead.”
Orioles: OF Trey Mancini got a rare day off, but manager Buck Showalter said he was fine. The manager said it was more about getting Peterson a chance to play. Peterson went 1-for-3 on Saturday.
Davis’ strikeout against Hildenberger in the eighth was the 1,306th of his career, moving him past Cal Ripken, Jr. for Baltimore’s franchise record.
”You play long enough, you’re going to swing and miss enough to apparently set some records. There’s not really much to say about that,” Davis said.
Orioles: Alex Cobb (2-10) takes the mound for Baltimore in the finale. He hasn’t won since June 5 against the New York Mets.
Twins: Jake Odorizzi (3-6) makes his 19th start of the year as the Twins go for the sweep. His last outing against Baltimore was March 29, when he shut out the Orioles over six innings on two hits and two walks.