Penguins put late playoff chase up against Flyers

Mar 7, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) reacts with left wing Jason Zucker (16) and center Evgeni Malkin (71) after scoring the game winning power play goal in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena. Pittsburgh won 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What traditionally is a heated rivalry this time looks like a mismatch when the struggling Philadelphia Flyers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

All figures to go as planned for the Penguins if they can find a finishing touch.

Pittsburgh, in hot contention for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot, is having trouble polishing off games. That was on full display Thursday when a 3-1 lead in the third period morphed into a 4-3 overtime loss at home against the New York Islanders.

“We can play as good as we want; if we don’t win, it’s useless,” said Pittsburgh winger Jason Zucker, who scored a first-period goal against the Islanders.

The Penguins are 1-0-1 on a five-game homestand, with the first four of those games against fellow Metropolitan Division clubs. That includes games on back-to-back days this weekend against the Flyers and New York Rangers.

It is a stretch that could determine whether Pittsburgh makes the playoffs for a 17th straight year.

“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Zucker said. “We’ve got two huge games this weekend. We’ve got a ton of huge games down the stretch. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be able to push here.”

As demoralizing as Thursday’s loss was, the Penguins are feeling good about their recent run of play.

“Our compete level was extremely high (and) our intent was in the right place, and that’s why (it) stings,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.

The Penguins still have won five of their past seven games and would seem to have a decided edge over Philadelphia.

The Flyers rank 29th in the league with an average of 2.57 goals per game. They have managed seven goals over their past five games and are coming off a 1-0 road loss Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Flyers are 1-5-1 in their past seven games, 2-9-1 in their past 12 and are well out of the playoff chase. While getting shut out Thursday, the Flyers had just 19 shots.

Philadelphia coach John Tortorella was blunt about his team’s offense.

“We don’t make enough plays. We haven’t made enough plays. And we probably won’t the rest of the year,” he said. “We’re learning how to be patient in a game. When you don’t score, you’ve got to play with some patience. … It’s a challenge, period, for us offensively. We all know that.

“We’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to be simple. We’ve got to play above (the puck), wait for our opportunities, hopefully get some good forechecking, and hopefully bank some in.”

The Flyers couldn’t do that Thursday.

“Those chances don’t come easy, and when we do get chances, we’ve got to bury them,” Philadelphia forward Owen Tippett said. “I think we can generate a little bit more in right front of the net.”

The status of Philadelphia forwards Wade Allison and Brendan Lemieux is unclear. Neither played Thursday and both are considered day-to-day because of unspecified injuries.

The Flyers will be without defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension for spearing Tampa Bay’s Corey Perry. Tortorella said the NHL made “the right call” with the suspension because DeAngelo “went over the line.”

–Field Level Media

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