The Penguins finally won and broke a three game losing streak with a pretty good win over a desperate Columbus team who are fighting tooth and nail to get into the playoffs. The Penguins weren't perfect as their special teams weren't great again but otherwise they played a tight hockey game and got a pair of goals halfway through the third period and that was all she wrote.
With the win tonight the Penguins have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the eighth straight season. That is the third longest active streak behind Detroit (22 seasons, have no clinched this year) and San Jose (10 seasons, including this year). That is no small feat. Despite the fact that half of the league makes the playoffs to be able to get to the postseason year in and year out says a lot about your franchise and how stable it has been over a long stretch. While I think we all knew it was going to happen it is nice to know it officially happened.
The star of the show tonight was Marc-Andre Fleury who came a few minutes away from a shutout but was still able to stop all but one shot. He made 35 saves on the night and made some really huge saves. The Penguins have had some trouble scoring goals recently and he probably knew he had to be close to perfect to break the team out of this slump and that is exactly what he did. Columbus made it a one-goal game with just over five minutes left and they came with a lot of fire power late and all MAF did was hold the fort and stop a few shots from close range with under 20 seconds left. Big time performance from MAF.
MAF did steal the show tonight but Beau Bennett really had an outstanding game and he was the best player on the ice not named MAF for either team. He wasn't rewarded with a point until he scored a goal just 47 seconds after Chris Kunitz made it 1-0. This was his first game since November and while he did have a pair of games to get back into it in WBS this was a really nice performance. I don't think Bennett is going to be a top-six guy when Evgeni Malkin comes back but if he can play solid hockey like he did tonight he is going to make the bottom-six that much better. Obviously this is only one game and he might have been playing on a lot of adrenalin but that was a really impressive performance.
The Penguins power play was shut out again. They were 0-for-3 on the power play which makes only one power play goal in the last four games (16 opportunities) which is really unlike the power play that leads the league. I am not sure if missing Malkin is the main reason for this but the power play looks a little off and just doesn't give you a good feeling. For me I think it will just come a time where the Penguins will finally cash in and when that happens they can come in bunches. I don't think the power play is a problem but cashing in occasionally would be nice.
Just nice to finally get a win. After back-to-back games the Penguins face Chicago on Sunday night in a huge prime time game so that will be a must watch.