Penguins widen gap in playoff race with win over Flyers

Watch as Kris Letang’s empty-netter is called a goal on the ice, then called off, then called off again, then called a good goal.

PHILADELPHIA — The Penguins have a reputation of winning games because of offensive firepower. They wanted to show they can do it with a smothering defence as well.

With the Penguins and Flyers chasing one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots, Pittsburgh used stifling defence and relentless forechecking Saturday to defeat Philadelphia 4-1.

The teams will meet twice more in the final week of the season, but the Penguins gave themselves some breathing room, moving six points ahead of the Flyers.

“I thought it was the most complete game that we’ve played to this point at both ends of the rink,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “When it came time to play defence, we defended hard. Our attention to detail was really good and everyone trusted each other out there. When we play that way, we’re very hard to play against.”

In what was akin to a playoff game for the Flyers, they were limited to 17 shots on goal. Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz each scored and Marc-Andre Fleury was pretty lonely in his own net, making just 16 saves to earn his 31st victory of the season.

``When you just stand there and don't have much to do, it's tough to keep a good rhythm and you have to find little things to do,'' Fleury said. ``I was watching the guys and we were dominating and controlling the play, so that was fun to watch.''

Despite falling behind on a goal by Radko Gudas early in the second period, the Penguins answered quickly with a goal of their own. Nick Bonino won a board battle with Flyers rookie defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere and fed Daley in left circle to tie it.

Flyers goalie Steve Mason got the call to start because Michal Neuvirth wasn't able to go. The Flyers said during the game Neuvirth ``didn't feel well,'' but announced afterward that Neuvirth would be re-evaluated Saturday night and an update would be provided Sunday.

Mason found out he was starting 20 minutes before warmups. He filled in admirably, keeping the Flyers in the game for a while and finishing with 31 saves.

The Penguins broke the game open with goals by Hagelin and Kunitz 90 seconds apart at the end of the second period. Bonino again had the primary assist for the go-ahead goal, feeding Hagelin after Phil Kessel forced Flyers forward Ryan White to cough up the puck along the boards. Hagelin snapped a wrist shot over Mason's glove for his ninth goal.

``It was an awesome forecheck by Phil. ... He didn't get an assist, but he clearly made the play happen,'' Bonino said.

On the next shift, a turnover by Flyers defenceman Mark Streit led to a rush for Pittsburgh, and Sidney Crosby found Kunitz trailing. Kunitz's shot went wide of the net, but rebounded off the end boards and hit off the back of Mason's left skate and slid into the net.

Kris Letang scored an empty-netter to seal the victory. He appeared to kick the puck into the net, and the goal was initially called off after review. It was then allowed by the referees without explanation.

``It was a very confusing situation,'' Sullivan said.

The win was the fifth straight by the Penguins and sixth in their last seven _ all against Metropolitan Division opponents. For the Flyers, it was their first regulation loss in the last seven games, and it forces them to refocus as they go on a four-game road trip and still just outside a playoff spot.

``It was a day where we couldn't find any energy and couldn't get ourselves going in the right direction,'' Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. ``It comes at a bad time and against the wrong team.''

NOTES: The Penguins improved to 4-0 without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. ... Jakub Voracek returned to the lineup for the Flyers after missing nine games with a left foot injury. He replaced Chris VandeVelde in the lineup. VandeVelde served the first game of his two-game suspension for elbowing Chicago captain Jonathan Toews on Wednesday... The Penguins are 32-0-0 when leading after two periods. ... Crosby's assist on Kunitz's goal extended his point streak to 11 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NHL, and it matches his season-best mark first set in January and February. ... The five-game win streak for the Penguins is the longest since Sullivan became coach in December.... It was the first win by the Penguins in Philadelphia since October 2013.