PITTSBURGH (AP) — It was a milestone night for Kris Letang, but a win carried greater significance to the star defenseman as the Pittsburgh Penguins fight for a playoff spot.
Letang skated in his 1,000th career game, Rickard Rakell scored two goals and the Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 on Sunday night.
“It was a special night,” Letang said. “There’s a lot of emotion, but you have to refocus and say that two points are more important, so it was nice to get the win.”
Bryan Rust scored in his 500th NHL game and Ryan Poehling added a late empty-net goal. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each had two assists and Casey DeSmith stopped 31 shots.
Crosby is three points from 1,500 in the NHL. He recorded his 233rd multi-assist game, moving past Joe Sakic for 11th in NHL history. Crosby also tied Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux for the most career points against the Flyers in NHL history with 124.
Pittsburgh rebounded from a one-goal loss against Boston on Saturday and overtook idle Florida for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh and Florida both have five games remaining. Pittsburgh is trying to extend its playoff streak — the longest active in major North American sports leagues — to a record 17th consecutive season.
“It’s human nature to watch the scoreboard,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re aware of who’s winning, who’s losing and where we stand. The most important thing is that we don’t get distracted by that stuff and focus on the task at hand.”
Travis Konecny scored his 29th of the season and Nicolas Deslauriers his sixth, both in the third period, but the Flyers couldn’t rally from their early three-goal deficit. Samuel Ersson finished with 27 saves as Philadelphia lost its third straight following a four-game win streak.
The Flyers failed to earn at least one point in the season series with Pittsburgh for the first time in franchise history.
“I didn’t think it was out of reach when it was 3-0,” Flyers coach John Tortorella said. “I thought we’d get to them. We certainly tried.”
Rakell scored the first two goals for Pittsburgh. His slap shot from the slot caromed off the glass, hit Ersson in the back and went in the net for the Penguins’ first goal with 8:20 left in the first period. He added a power-play goal a little more than three minutes later as he redirected Malkin’s pass behind Ersson from the slot for his 27th.
Rust gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead with his 19th of the season with 6:37 left in the second. He flipped a backhander past Ersson off the rush with Crosby.
Flyers G Carter Hart missed his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury.
LETANG HITS 1,000 GAMES
Letang is the 381st player in NHL history — and 40th active — to play in 1,000 career games. Letang, a third-round pick in 2005, made his NHL debut against the Flyers on Oct. 5, 2006.
Letang joined Crosby and Malkin as the only players in franchise history to skate in 1,000 career games with the Penguins. Pittsburgh is the second team in NHL history to have a trio of teammates play their first 1,000 games together.
Letang has endured a tumultuous road to 1,000 games, including significant struggles earlier this season. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. His father passed away about a month later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with family in his native Montreal, as teammates made an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing.
Letang’s teammates were there for him again on Sunday, as they wore his No. 58 jersey and mimicked his stretching routine during pregame warmups. Letang’s son, Alex Letang, skated out with the team, announced the starting lineup and stood beside his dad on the blue line for the national anthem.
“It was pretty emotional having my son on the ice with me,” Letang said. “That made it perfect.”
Letang received gifts from the team, including a custom photo and silver hockey stick commemorating the occasion. He was joined on the ice by his wife and family and watched a video tribute, which included messages from Crosby and Malkin.
“The entire day was different,” Letang said. “Your heart is racing, your mind is thinking about so many things … it’s just special.”
Flyers: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday at St. Louis.
Penguins: Visit New Jersey on Tuesday.
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Dan Scifo, The Associated Press