The Stanley Cup champions are back in the play-offs - and the Pittsburgh Penguins have made it clear that their defence will not be easing off. "We need to establish ourselves in these final eight games [before the play-offs]," said Michael Rupp, the Penguins forward, after Pittsburgh had clinched their post-season spot with a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. "That's what we did tonight and we look to do it again."
"We want to finish as high as we can in the standings," Dan Bylsma, their coach, said after Sidney Crosby had orchestrated the win with three assists for the Penguins, who are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division lead. The Devils and the Buffalo Sabres joined the Penguins in sealing post-season berths in the Eastern Conference while the financially troubled Phoenix Coyotes made the play-offs in the West for the first time since 2002.
Martin Brodeur made 25 saves for his 41st win of the campaign as New Jersey made the post-season for the 13th successive year with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Buffalo, who lead the Northeast Division, secured their first play-off spot since 2007 with a 7-1 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning as netminder Patrick Lalime recorded the 200th win of his career. Two goals by Lee Stempniak, who now has 12 in as many games since being traded from Toronto, helped Phoenix beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 and seal a play-off spot.
"I've only been here a short time but the character in the locker room is unlike anything I've ever seen from another team I've been," said Stempniak. "Everyone knows their role and embraces it." The Coyotes also reached the 100-point mark for the first time in franchise history. The four teams join the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks, who are already in the play-offs, as the regular season enters its final fortnight. * With agencies