Lyles sharp, Cervelli and Marte homer, Pirates beat Cubs 5-2

Lyles sharp, Cervelli and Marte homer, Pirates beat Cubs 5-2
By MATT CARLSON Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Jordan Lyles had everything, including a retooled curveball, clicking on a cold, windy night at Wrigley Field.
Lyles struck out 10 in six crisp innings to tie a career high, Francisco Cervelli and Starling Marte homered off Yu Darvish, and the Pittsburgh Pirates topped the Chicago Cubs 5-2 on Wednesday.
Lyles (1-0) allowed three hits and was sharp again in his second start, with Jason Heyward’s solo shot in the fifth accounting for the lone run against him. The right-hander walked only one as Pittsburgh bounced back from a 10-0 drubbing in the Cubs’ home opener Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.
“The curveball and changeup were there for me early on, the curveball was there for me throughout the game,” said Lyles, who came up with a new grip for the pitch last season. “Just looking at the numbers, that’s what I have most of my success with — at least damage against — my curveball.”
When Lyles arrived in the majors with the Astros in 2011, he said he was a “60-70% fastball guy.” The 28-year-old has tinkered with his repertoire and it’s paying off.
“We started figuring out what sequences worked best with that curveball, my best pitch,” Lyles said. “So we’re taking that into 2019 and we’re off to a decent start so far.”
Manager Clint Hurdle said Lyles effectively used all his pitches, including the curve, fastball, sinker, changeup and slider.
“The pitch mix worked well, and so far it’s gotten him out of the block really clean,” Hurdle said. “He’s not a guy that you look at the (radar) gun and it’s going to blow you back. There’s angle, there’s deception, and again, he’s got a fastball that plays at the top of the zone.”
Heyward had three hits and Javier Baez drove in run with a double in the eighth, but Felipe Vazquez got the final five outs for his third save in as many chances.
Darvish (0-2) and the Cubs (3-8) continued to struggle on a 40-degree night with the wind blowing in from center field at 20 mph.
Darvish allowed five runs — four earned — and five hits in 5 1/3 innings in his first start at home since May 2, 2018. But the right-hander walked none and struck out four after issuing 11 walks over 6 2/3 innings in his first two outings. Darvish signed a six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs before the 2018 season, but he made it through only eight starts before being shut down with right triceps tendinitis on May 26.
Despite another loss, manager Joe Maddon and Darvish were encouraged by his improved control.
“He knew where the ball as going and he had really good stuff tonight,” Maddon said. “It seemed like he may have found some things tonight regarding his delivery, the way the ball was coming out of his hand.”
“I threw a lot of strikes with the fastball, that’s why I feel good,” Darvish said. “I’m happy with it but I still gave up the five runs and lose the game.”
Cervelli lined a homer to left-center in the first to put the Pirates ahead 1-0.
Marte turned on a fastball and lofted a two-run shot down the left-field line in the third to make it 3-0.
Heyward’s drive in the fourth cut it to 3-1 and reached the edge of the center-field shrubs despite the steady incoming wind.
The Pirates tacked on two runs and chased Darvish in the sixth. Josh Bell had an RBI single off reliever Kyle Ryan, and Cervelli came home on Ryan’s errant pick-off to first.
APPEALING
RHP Chris Archer is still scheduled to start Saturday against Washington as he awaits a ruling on his appeal of a five-game suspension, Hurdle said. Archer received the penalty for his part in a benches-clearing fracas last weekend against Cincinnati at PNC Park.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon, hit in the head by Anthony Rizzo’s comebacker on Monday, does not have a concussion. Hurdle said Taillon “met all the criteria for the check-ups.” … OF Lonnie Chisenhall (fractured right hand) took batting practice in the indoor cage on Wednesday and is playing catch. … OF Corey Dickerson (right posterior shoulder strain) has resumed batting practice, but is not yet cleared to throw. … C Elias Diaz (virus) played Tuesday and Wednesday night for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester was put on the 10-day injured list (strained left hamstring) retroactive to Tuesday. Injured while scoring from second base on Ben Zobrist’s single in Monday’s home opener, the Cubs ace will miss at least one turn. LHP Tim Collins was recalled from Triple-A Iowa and pitched the ninth.
UP NEXT
Pirates RHP Joe Musgrove (1-0, 0.00) faces Cubs LHP Jose Quintana (0-1, 10.29) in the series finale Thursday night. Musgrove tossed seven scoreless innings and won his first start last Friday against Cincinnati. Quintana was hammered for eight runs, including three homers, in three innings Friday at Milwaukee.
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Bucs pitcher Archer suspended for 5 games

Archer suspended for 5 games, Puig for 2, Bell for 1
By The Associated Press undefined
NEW YORK (AP) — Pittsburgh pitcher Chris Archer was suspended for five games, Cincinnati outfielder Yasiel Puig for two and Reds manager David Bell for one on Tuesday for their parts in a bench-clearing fracas last weekend at PNC Park.
The commissioner’s office said Archer has appealed his penalty and will play pending a decision.
Puig and Bell chose not to appeal. Puig will miss the first two games of a series against the Marlins in Cincinnati starting Tuesday night. Bench coach Freddie Benavides will manage the Reds in the first game.
Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre also fined all three for their behavior Sunday in Pittsburgh, which was touched off when Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich stood in the batter’s box to admire his long home run in the second inning.
Two innings later, Archer threw his first pitch behind Dietrich’s waist. Plate umpire Jeff Kellogg warned both benches and Bell jogged from the dugout to the infield, arguing Archer should be ejected. Archer maintained he simply was off-target with an inside pitch.
Benches and bullpens emptied, and an enraged Puig barreled into a bunch of Pirates and was restrained by several teammates.
Bell interpreted Archer’s suspension as confirmation that the pitch was purposely meant to hurt Dietrich. Bell said Torre told him that Archer wasn’t ejected by the umpires because he didn’t throw at the batter’s head.
“That to me is a very dangerous approach,” Bell said. “As we know, even if they’re aiming somewhere else, it could hit a hitter right in the head.”
Bell wasn’t surprised by his one-game suspension.
“I was suspended (because) things escalated when I came out,” Bell said. “Clearly both benches cleared, which is unfortunate.”
Puig declined to appeal his suspension because he thought it wouldn’t make a difference. He wasn’t satisfied with Archer getting a five-day suspension, which means the starter would miss one appearance at most.
“The pitcher’s going to be suspended for five days, that’s not costing him nothing because no matter what he’s going to rest for five days,” Puig said. “It cost me two games.”
Bell doesn’t agree with the old-school practice of a pitcher retaliating when they think a hitter has showed them up by lingering too long or doing something theatrical after hitting a home run.
“Major League Baseball needs to take this out of their hands if the players try to police it,” Bell said. “That’s a dangerous approach.”
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AP Sports Writer Joe Kay in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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Pens legendary Broadcaster Mike Lange to miss start of Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Mike Lange, the radio voice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, will miss the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs after suffering an adverse reaction to medication for pneumonia.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster was briefly hospitalized last week and is now resting at home. He will phone in during the first intermission of Game 1 Wednesday to speak on the air with the Penguins’ radio intermission host, Brian Metzer.

“They’ve encouraged me to rest, but I’m looking forward to getting back in the booth with the ‘ol-29er’ Phil Bourque as soon as possible,” Lange said.

Josh Getzoff will handle radio play-by-play duties at the start of the playoffs with Bourque providing analysis. All games air on WXDX-FM (105.9) and the Penguins Radio Network.

Getzoff called radio play-by-play for most of the Penguins’ regular season road games, while Lange did most home games.

Paul Steigerwald will host the pre- and post-game radio shows.

Lange, who recently turned 71, is now in his 44th season as a Penguins broadcaster.

Bucs pounded by the Cubs 10-0!!

Schwarber, Cubs beat Pirates 10-0 in Wrigley opener
By JAY COHEN AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Kyle Schwarber hit a two-run homer and Chicago’s beleaguered bullpen stepped up after Jon Lester departed with left hamstring tightness, leading the Cubs over the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-0 in their home opener on Monday.
Brad Brach, Brandon Kintzler, Randy Rosario and Pedro Strop combined for seven innings of four-hit ball after Lester was removed with two on and no outs in the third. Brach (1-0) pitched two innings for his first win with the Cubs.
Chicago had an 8.37 bullpen ERA on its opening 2-7 trip, amplifying concerns about pitching depth with relievers Brandon Morrow, Xavier Cedeno and Tony Barnette sidelined by injuries. Manager Joe Maddon said he was confident the bullpen will settle eventually, and it delivered on a picturesque day at Wrigley Field.
Pittsburgh had won four in a row, but it hurt itself with four errors, including three by shortstop Kevin Newman. Melky Cabrera had two of the Pirates’ seven hits.
The game began to get away from Pittsburgh after Jameson Taillon (0-2) retired the first two batters in the second. Daniel Descalso reached on a throwing error by Newman, and Chicago was off and running.
After Jason Heyward was walked intentionally, Lester drove a 0-2 pitch into the gap in left-center for an RBI double. Lester scored from second on Ben Zobrist’s two-run single, sliding home safely for a 3-0 lead.
Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez tacked on RBI singles, and Newman committed two more errors on a Schwarber grounder, allowing another run to come home. Baez shrugged as he stood on first base after throwing his bat at a ball in the dirt, leading to a liner that just got over Newman’s head.
Taillon was charged with six unearned runs and four hits in two innings. Rizzo’s run-scoring single appeared to go off his head, but he stayed in the game.
Schwarber capped the scoring when he drove a 1-0 pitch from Steven Brault over the wall in left-center for his third homer in the fourth, delighting the crowd of 40,692. He went deep 26 times last season.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco (left shoulder surgery) and RHP Dovydas Neverauskas (left oblique strain) began rehab assignments with Class A Bradenton on Sunday.
Cubs: Morrow (elbow surgery) has completed each of his bullpen sessions so far “without incident,” according to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. The next step for Morrow is expected to be finalized this week. … Barnette (right shoulder inflammation) and Cedeno (left wrist inflammation) are “moving along and getting closer to the possibility of rehab assignments,” Epstein said. “No setbacks with either guy.”
UP NEXT
Following an off day, right-handers Jordan Lyles and Yu Darvish get the ball when the series resumes Wednesday night. Lyles (0-0, 0.00 ERA) made his Pittsburgh debut Thursday against Cincinnati and pitched five innings in the Pirates’ 2-0 victory. Darvish (0-1, 8.10 ERA) struggled in his first two starts of the year, issuing 11 walks in just 6 2/3 innings.
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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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Wild Puig in middle of bench-clearing fray, Pirates sweep Reds.

Wild Puig in middle of bench-clearing fray, Pirates top Reds
By ALAN SAUNDERS Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A charged-up Yasiel Puig barreled into a bunch of Pirates during a bench-clearing fracas Sunday, and was among five ejections in Pittsburgh’s 7-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The trouble started in the fourth inning when Chris Archer threw his first pitch behind the waist of Derek Dietrich. His previous time up, Dietrich dropped his bat and stood in the box to watch his 436-foot drive clear the fence atop the Clemente Wall and bounce into the Allegheny River.
Dietrich stood still when Archer’s 93 mph fastball whizzed by. Plate umpire Jeff Kellogg warned both benches and new Reds manager David Bell jogged from the dugout to the infield, arguing Archer should’ve been ejected.
Tempers quickly escalated. The excitable Puig, in his first season with the Reds, grabbed Pirates bench coach Tom Prince and tried to put the 54-year-old former catcher in a headlock. Puig kept trying to plow ahead, and eventually was held back by teammate Joey Votto.
Puig, Bell and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett were ejected, as were Pirates pitchers Keone Kela and Felipe Vazquez.
Archer (1-0) was allowed to remain in the game. He went six innings, allowing three runs and five hits while striking out seven.
Dietrich later homered for the second time. Scott Schebler also homered for the Reds.
Josh Bell hit an estimated 474-foot home run off Reds starter Anthony DeSclafini (0-1) in the fourth that cleared the batter’s eye in center field. Adam Frazier homered on DeSclafini’s first pitch of the game.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco (left shoulder surgery) and RHP Dovydas Neverauskas (left oblique strain) began his rehab assignments with Class A Bradenton. Neverauskas pitched a scoreless inning of relief with one strikeout. Polanco went 0 for 2 with two walks.
UP NEXT
Reds: RHP Luis Castillo (0-1, 1.42 ERA) will start a three-game homestand against Miami on Tuesday. They will be the only three games in Cincinnati for the Reds between April 4 and April 22, a span of 16 games.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-1, 3.46) will make his third start of 2019 against the Chicago Cubs on Monday.
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Wrestler Bret Hart tackled during WWE Hall of Fame speech

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Wrestler Bret Hart tackled during WWE Hall of Fame speech
Associated Press undefined
NEW YORK (AP) — Wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart was tackled by a spectator Saturday while he was giving a speech during the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The attacker was promptly subdued by several people, including other wrestlers, who came to Hart’s defense. Hart, 61, is OK.
The person ran toward the ring from the crowd, spectator Alan Fisher told The Associated Press.
“I couldn’t believe that the security had missed him in the first place and the next thing you know there was Shane McMahon and Travis Brown on top of him the crowd was going crazy booing,” Fisher said. “Everyone was cheering when one of the wrestlers punched him.”
New York City Police arrested 26-year-old Zachary Madsen. He faces assault and criminal trespass charges. An email to the district attorney seeking someone who could comment on Madsen’s behalf wasn’t immediately answered.
Several shocked onlookers posted footage of the tackle online.
The induction event resumed, with Hart continuing his speech, after the fan was taken into custody.
“He should have never attacked Bret Hart especially at such a special moment in his life,” Fisher said.

Bucs walk it off on a Newman doubles in 10th, Pirates beat Reds 6-5

Newman doubles in 10th, Pirates beat Reds 6-5
By ALAN SAUNDERS Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kevin Newman hit a game-ending double in the 10th inning, lifting the Pittsburgh Pirates over the Cincinnati Reds 6-5 Saturday for their third straight win.
With one out in the 10th, Francisco Cervelli singled off Reds reliever Raisel Iglesias (0-2). Newman drove the first pitch he saw to the 410-foot left-center notch at PNC Park, and Cervelli easily beat the relay home. It was the first walkoff hit of Newman’s career.
Francisco Liriano (1-0) struck out two in the top half of the inning.
Joey Votto tied it in the eighth with his first home run of the year, a solo shot off Keone Kela. It was Kela’s second blown save in five appearances.
The Reds snapped a 30-inning scoreless streak, the team’s longest since 2015, when Kyle Farmer hit a two-run home run in the third. The blast was his first homer in his 64th career game.
Pirates starter Trevor Williams allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in six innings. Pirates starters had allowed just five earned runs in their first six games.
Starling Marte gave the Pirates the lead with his two-run double in the sixth inning.
Josh Bell had three extra-base hits for the first time in his career: an RBI double in the first, a double in the third and a solo home run in the fourth.
Pirates outfielder Jason Martin made his major league debut and got his first hit, first stolen base and scored his first run when Bell drove him in in the first inning. Martin finished 1 for 2 with a walk out of the leadoff spot.
Cincinnati starter Tanner Roark pitched five innings and allowed three runs and seven hits while striking out four.
SQUEEZED OUT
Newman attempted to score on Williams’ squeeze bunt in the second inning but was called out via replay. Roark barehanded the bunt, spun awkwardly and threw high to catcher Curt Casali. Newman was originally called safe, but video showed his front foot skipped over home plate, leaving Casali time to apply the tag.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco (left shoulder surgery) and RHP Dovydas Neverauskas (left oblique strain) will both begin rehab assignments with Class A Bradenton on Sunday.
UP NEXT
Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafini (0-0, 1.80 ERA) will start the series finale Sunday. He allowed one run and struck out eight in five innings in his season debut against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Pirates: Chris Archer (0-0, 0.00) had eight strikeouts in his first 2019 start against St. Louis on Monday, but it took him 99 pitches to get through five innings.
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Musgrove outduels Gray, Pirates hand Reds 3rd shutout in row

Musgrove outduels Gray, Pirates hand Reds 3rd shutout in row
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Joe Musgrove allowed three hits in seven efficient innings to outduel Sonny Gray and the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Cincinnati Reds their third straight shutout, 2-0 on Friday night.
Musgrove (1-0) struck out eight and walked one in his first start as Pittsburgh sent Cincinnati its sixth los in a row.
Cincinnati’s scoreless streak reached 28 innings when Felipe Vazquez retired Yaisel Puig to end it, the longest drought by the Reds since they went 30 innings without crossing the plate from Aug. 5-8, 2015. The Reds are hitting just .157 as a team.
Jung Ho Kang broke a scoreless tie in the seventh when he lined a double into the left-field corner, allowing Josh Bell to score from first. Adam Frazier added an RBI double in the eighth off Reds reliever Zach Duke.
Vazquez worked a perfect ninth for his second save.
Gray (0-2) dazzled in his second start for Cincinnati, retiring 16 straight at one point. Two of the three hits he allowed came in the seventh. Gray struck out seven without a walk in 6 2/3 innings.
Cincinnati is off to a 1-6 start, but pitching is not the issue. Gray’s performance dropped the Reds’ starters ERA to 2.16.
Gray arrived in January as part of Cincinnati’s offseason overhaul, an effort by the club to climb back into contention in the NL Central after four straight last-place finishes. His initial start for the Reds was forgettable. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a loss to the Pirates, needing 71 pitches to record eight outs.
Things were far different five days later at chilly PNC Park. Mixing speed and location effectively, Gray allowed a single to Francisco Cervelli with two outs in the first but Pittsburgh didn’t get another runner on base until Starling Marte led off the seventh with a single.
Marte advanced to third on a wild pitch and a groundout but was nailed at the plate when he hesitated running home on Bell’s sharp grounder to draw-in second baseman Jose Peraza.
Gray couldn’t take advantage of the reprieve. Kang laced a double to the left-field corner and Bell chugged all the way around to score from first without a throw.
Considering the state of Cincinnati’s offense and Pittsburgh’s starting pitching, it was enough.
Musgrove continued a string of dominant efforts by Pirates starters. The Reds never reached third base, their best chance coming in the first when Joey Votto doubled with one out. Puig followed with a liner to second baseman Adam Frazier. Votto, who ran at the crack of the bat, was easily doubled off to end the inning.
Musgrove cruised from there as the ERA by Pittsburgh’s starters dropped to 1.25.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: RHP Kyle Crick was placed on the 10-day injured list with tightness in his right triceps. Pittsburgh called up OF Jason Martin to take Crick’s roster spot.
UP NEXT
Reds: Tanner Roark (0-1, 6.23 ERA) makes his second start for the Reds on Saturday. Roark, acquired in an offseason trade with Washington, allowed three runs in 4 1/3 innings in a loss to Milwaukee last Monday.
Pirates: Trevor Williams (1-0, 0.00) will look to back up the six shutout innings he tossed last Sunday against Cincinnati when he makes his second start of the season.
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Lyles, Pirates bullpen combine to blank Reds 2-0

Lyles, Pirates bullpen combine to blank Reds 2-0
By ALAN SAUNDERS Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jordan Lyles became the latest Pittsburgh starter to open the season with a stellar effort.
Lyles threw five effective innings in his Pirates debut, a 2-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night.
Lyles, who played for San Diego and Milwaukee last year, allowed three hits, walked three and struck out two. He was activated from the injured list before the game after being out with discomfort on his right side.
“It’s a good start to get things going,” he said. “Five innings, not thrilled about that. . Going forward, definitely going to look for going deeper into games, but overall, not complaining about some scoreless innings.”
Through five games, the Pirates starting pitchers have allowed an MLB-low five runs and hold a 1.55 ERA.
Despite extraordinary starting pitching, the Pirates improved to just 2-3 this year. The Pirates’ bullpen blew back-to-back saves in two games against St. Louis and had a 5.79 ERA entering play Thursday.
But Nick Kingham, Richard Rodriguez and Felipe Vazquez combined for four scoreless innings as the Pirates recorded their second shutout of the season.
Kingham (1-0) pitched two innings of relief, conceding two hits and striking out two. Rodriguez bounced back with a shutout inning after being scored upon in his first two outings of the season.
Vazquez escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the ninth to earn his first save of the season by striking out three.
“It was well-executed game plan by our pitchers and they all deserve some credit,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
With one out in the seventh, Melky Cabrera singled and was replaced by pinch-runner Pablo Reyes. A single and Kevin Newman’s infield dribbler back to pitcher David Hernandez (0-1) made it 1-0. Cabrera finished with three hits.
Reds starter Tyler Mahle threw six scoreless innings in his season debut. He allowed five hits and struck out five without a walk.
Josh Bell singled home Starling Marte with an insurance run in the eighth.
POWER OUTAGE
Both of the Pirates shutouts have come against Cincinnati, and the Reds have been blanked three times in total on the season, including two straight games as they lost 1-0 to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
They managed six hits against the four Pittsburgh pitchers and went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position. The Reds are hitting an NL-worst .169.
“We had some good at-bats. We hit the ball hard. So we’re going to focus on that,” manager David Bell said. “It’s going to turn. We just really need to stay confident. The great thing is that our pitching is doing a great job. Tyler Mahle was outstanding tonight. If we continue to do that, we believe everything’s going to turn around.”
Center fielder Scott Schebler, who went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk, agreed with his manager’s assessment.
“This is not a team that gets shut out very often, at least in the past it has not been,” he said. “I feel like we’re getting a little unlucky on some hard-hit balls and we’re just not stringing anything together.”
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: LF Corey Dickerson was put on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder sprain.
UP NEXT
Reds: RHP Sonny Gray (0-1, 6.75 ERA) will make his second straight start against Pittsburgh on Friday. Gray lasted just 2 2/3 innings and allowed three runs against the Pirates in Cincinnati on Sunday.
Pirates: RHP Joe Musgrove (0-0, 0.00) will make his first start and second appearance of the season. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Reds on Sunday.
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Penguins lock up playoff berth with 4-1 win over Red Wings

Penguins lock up playoff berth with 4-1 win over Red Wings
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — So much for the slow start. The seemingly endless string of injuries to bold-faced names, to the ones that left the Pittsburgh Penguins drifting aimlessly for long stretches.
Then March came. April, too. And the Penguins did what they always seem to do when the number of games dwindles and the stakes rise. They found themselves in time to reach the playoffs.
The proof came over three periods against Detroit on Thursday night. Phil Kessel regained his scoring touch. Sidney Crosby threw his body — and the puck — into the net. Matt Murray swung the momentum with sprawling save on a breakaway and Pittsburgh extended the NHL’s longest postseason streak to 13 years and counting with a 4-1 victory over the Red Wings.
“It’s not easy,” said Crosby, who finished with a goal and two assists. “You can see it comes down to Game 81. There are a lot of things that happened over the course of the year. It’s difficult. It’s a tight league and you have to earn it.”
Something the Penguins have done better than any other team in the NHL since 2007, a stretch that includes three Stanley Cups and an appearance in a Cup final. While they’ll hardly be among the favorites when the Eastern Conference quarterfinals begin next week, they have a shot. Considering where they were at various times over the last six months — from Murray’s early struggles to injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta among other — they’ll take it.
“I believe in this group,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When we play the game the right way, I think we can compete with any team in the league. We have difference makers in the lineup. … I believe this group is capable of great things.”
For the first time in a while, the pieces are in place. Malkin picked up an assist in his return from an eight-game absence due to an upper-body injury. Letang skated a team-high 25:52 in just his fourth game since Feb. 23, thanks to an upper-body injury of his own. Their presence gives the Penguins depth and offensive firepower few in the league can match.
“I think the impact they have is huge,” Sullivan said. “Both guys are just, they’re dominant players. It just changes the whole dynamic of our team.”
Particularly when the Penguins are on the power play. Pittsburgh scored twice against the Red Wings with the man advantage, with both goals coming from the top group. Kessel’s tap-in from the left post at 18:18 of the first period put the Penguins in front to stay. Crosby’s jam from in close at 6:36 of the third period — a shot that came as he was being dumped into the net — ended a 10-game goal drought for the captain and drained the final minutes of any tension, a small respite at the end of a draining slog of a season.
Matt Puempel scored his first NHL goal in more than two years for the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard finished with 43 saves, but couldn’t quite duplicate his spectacular performance in a victory over the Penguins on Tuesday as Detroit’s six-game winning streak came to a halt.
“If you have Malkin and Letang back in your lineup, you’re a much better team (and) it creates real hard matchups on the road especially when we’re thin to begin with,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “And I don’t think our best players were as good as they have been. They’ve been excellent through this stretch.”
One the Red Wings — who will miss the playoffs for the third straight year after making it every season from 1991-2016 — hope they can carry forward next fall.
The Penguins have more pressing matters, like trying to bolster their postseason position. A win over the New York Rangers on Saturday assures Pittsburgh of a meeting with the New York Islanders in the opening round. A loss and a victory by Carolina and the Penguins would drop to the top wild-card spot and face Washington for a fourth straight year.
There are far worse problems to have. For a few moments Thursday, they tried to enjoy a moment that has become a rite of spring for the franchise for more than a decade, even if the path this time proved bumpier than usual. Not that it matters now. The playoffs offer a chance to reset, a button the Penguins are eager to push.
“I think we have a good team here,” Kessel said. “We’ll see who we play coming up. We’ll give it our all.”
NOTES: Penguins C Matt Cullen played in his 1,515th game, passing Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman for 19th on the NHL’s all-time list. … Detroit F Tyler Bertuzzi was held without a point to end his franchise-record streak of games with at least three points at four. … The Red Wings went 1 for 2 on the power play. The Penguins were 2 for 4.
UP NEXT
Red Wings: Wrap up 2018-19 at home Saturday against Buffalo.
Penguins: Finish the regular season at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday.
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