WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Penguins didn’t even need Paul Martin’s winning goal to win their division for the second year in a row.
Martin returned after an 18-game absence and scored the winner to help the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminate the Winnipeg Jets from playoff contention with a 4-2 victory Thursday night.
Pittsburgh (49-23-5) won the NHL’s Metropolitan Division title before the game was over because Philadelphia lost to Columbus earlier in the evening.
[PHOTO: Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Niskanen (2), Sidney Crosby (87), Paul Martin (7) and Chris Kunitz (14) celebrated Martin's goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)]
“I don’t think we’ve been playing the best hockey lately and the best that we can do,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “We’re missing some key guys in the lineup, too.”
It was only Pittsburgh’s third victory in its past seven games. It’s the second time in franchise history that Pittsburgh has won back-to-back division titles, with the last in 1992-93 and ’93-94.
Martin, who was out since the Olympic break because of a broken hand, made it 3-2 for the Penguins 11 seconds into a power play at 7:42 of the third period. With Jets defenseman Mark Stuart in the penalty box for hooking, James Neal sent a pass into the slot for Martin, who fired a one-timer by goalie Ondrej Pavelec.
“He’s really patient,” Crosby said. “His poise back there, his patience with the puck, he’s just really smart, and that kind of calming aspect brings a lot to the power play.”
Brian Gibbons added an insurance goal when the Jets turned over the puck and he beat Pavelec with a low shot at 16:24. Crosby had a pair of assists.
The Jets franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since the team was the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07.
Dallas and Phoenix are tied with 85 points for the final spot in the Western Conference, but the Stars have a game in hand. They also still play each other.
Winnipeg has 78 points (34-34-10) and only four games left in the season.
The Penguins got goals from Beau Bennett and Greg Adams, too.
Olli Jokinen and Zach Redmond scored for Winnipeg. Fleury made 13 saves in his 37th win of the season, while Pavelec stopped 17 shots.
“We missed the net 18 times. That’s more shots than we put on goal,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice, who was sporting a cut on his forehead from an errant puck. “So that, to me, was the difference from our offensive point of view.”
Winnipeg tied the game at 1 2:52 into the second period when Blake Wheeler rushed to the net ahead of Penguins’ defenders and the rebound off his shot was fired into the net by Jokinen. The assist gave Wheeler a career-high 65 points this season.
Redmond, playing in only his fifth game this season, made it 2-1 for Winnipeg with his first goal of the season at 9:42 before Adams tied it with less than two minutes to go in the period.
The Penguins reached a couple milestones. Coach Dan Bylsma got his 250th career regular-season victory in his 396th game, the fastest coach in NHL history to reach that milestone. Anaheim’s Bruce Boudreau won 250 games in 416 games.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 700th NHL game.