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PITTSBURGH (AP) 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 Duncan Keith 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 http://www.officialblackhawksproshop.com/authentic-adidas-gustav-forsling-jersey , 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, 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 John Hayden Jersey , 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.UP NEXTSenators: 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.— BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) With the Flames slipping out of playoff contention, goalie Mike Smith would prefer nothing more than to be back in net for Calgary’s next game, at Buffalo.Knowing that’s not in the cards, Smith settled on accepting the next step in recovering from a lower body injury by practicing with the Flames for the first time in nearly a month on Tuesday.”It’s the worst feeling as a guy who wants to be in there every game and wants to help the team win,” Smith said after taking part in an optional practice a day before Calgary plays the Sabres.”A piece of you feels like you’re letting the team down by sitting there and watching,” he added. ”That’s the sucky part of the position and the sport. But that’s part of the deal. So you’ve got to deal with it.”Though still experiencing some soreness, Smith was encouraged following the half-hour session while saying it’s premature to determine how much more time he’ll miss.”I’d like to tell you that, but your guess is as good as mine. I think it’s just day by day,” he said. ”I’m trying to improve every day Authentic Jonathan Toews Jersey , strengthen, get comfortable, and when I’m ready I’ll know.”Smith has been out since being hurt in the final seconds of a 3-2 win at the New York Islanders on Feb. 11.After spending much of the past week skating on his own, Smith at least felt healthy enough to travel from Calgary to rejoin the Flames, who are in the midst of a three-game road swing that closes at Ottawa on Thursday.The Flames could use any type of boost after having gone 0-3-1 in their past four following a 4-3 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. And they’re 3-6-2 while allowing 40 goals in 11 games since Smith was hurt.In that time, Calgary has gone from sitting third in the Pacific Division to 11th in the tightly contested Western Conference playoff picture. With 15 games left, the Flames entered Tuesday with 74 points, three behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Kings.”There’s still time left and games left,” Smith said. ”I think we’re a good team. It’s time now to put all the chips in, and we need every guy working on all cylinders here.”With a 23-16-6 record, Smith has provided the Flames much-needed stability in net after being acquired in a trade with Arizona in June. His 2.53 goals-against average ranks 12th and 0.921 save percentage is ninth among goalies with 30 or more games played.Without the 12-year veteran Blake Comeau Jersey Womens , the Flames are leaning on a rookie tandem of Jon Gillies and David Rittich, who have combined to appear in 25 career NHL games.Gillies is 2-2-1 in six games, including a 35-save outing in a 5-2 win at Arizona on Feb. 22. Rittich is 1-4-1, and allowed seven goals on 26 shots in a 7-3 loss at Vegas on Feb. 21.Coach Glen Gulutzan defended his goalies by saying the team has to play better as a whole. And yet, he acknowledged how much of a difference Smith can make both in stopping shots and being one of the league’s best puck-handling goalies.”There’s no scapegoat on goaltending here,” Gulutzan said. ”We’re still fighting. And if we get him back, I think it’s great. It helps you win when you get an elite guy back.”—
 

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