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NHL Philadelphia closer to division lead with 6-1 rout of Penguins



Published: Fri, April 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pittsburgh lost to the Flyers for the fourth time in the last 17 days.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Just like the old days, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a major factor as the Eastern Conference playoff race winds down.

Long since out of the playoffs themselves, the Penguins are giving nearly every team they play a major boost in improving its postseason position -- especially the rival Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers beat the downtrodden Penguins for the fourth time in 17 days, winning 6-1 Monday night behind Keith Primeau's goal and two assists to move to within two points of Atlantic Division leader New Jersey.

By winning, the Flyers assured themselves of home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and made sure the Penguins can't match their modest 68-point total of last season.

With 63 points and only two games remaining, the Penguins are guaranteed of their worst full-length season since 1984-85 -- Mario Lemieux's rookie year, when they had 53 points. They had 61 points in 1994-95, when a labor dispute trimmed the NHL season to 48 games.

Strong start, weak finish

The Flyers saw the same pattern in every game they played in the four-game stretch against the Penguins that began March 15: a strong start that can't be sustained by the limited amount of talent they're putting on the ice.

"You can see when they come out to play, they really want to work hard," Primeau said. "Every game, you can sense in the first period it's going to be a game, but they just don't have the horses."

The Penguins are winless in 10 games at home (0-9-1), one short of the club record, and are 1-16-2 overall in their last 19.

At least they're helping others end their slumps. Primeau, scoreless in nine games, scored once and set up two goals -- all in the second period -- while Michal Handzus scored for the first time in 14 games. Sami Kapanen (seven games) and John LeClair (six games) also ended brief slumps.

It's gotten so bad for the confidence-lacking Penguins, they can't even count on Lemieux. He returned after sitting out two games with back spasms, but was held without a goal for the eighth straight game and committed a giveaway that led to Kapanen's goal.

Lemieux acknowledged the Penguins, stripped to the core by a series of trades that trimmed the payroll but left them with few productive players, are overmatched against the Flyers.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "They skate well and put a lot of pressure on you. Right now, we're just trying to play the best we can. That's all we can do right now."

About the only race the Penguins might win is that to avoid last place in the Eastern Conference. They lead Carolina 63-61 going into Wednesday night's home game against the Hurricanes.




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