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With Sidney Crosby heating up, it's no surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been one of the league's best teams recently. Without Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup, it's pretty remarkable that the Atlanta Thrashers are also surging.
Crosby and the Penguins look to snap Atlanta's franchise-record six-game winning streak Tuesday night when the teams meet at Mellon Arena.
Pittsburgh (37-26-8) has come away with at least a point in each of its last 10 games, going 8-0-2 since Feb. 25 to climb into fifth place in the Eastern Conference - two points behind Philadelphia for the fourth spot but only four ahead of ninth-place Florida.
The Penguins earned a big home win over conference-leading Boston on Sunday, rallying for four goals in the third period of the 6-4 victory. Crosby had three assists, Chris Kunitz scored two goals and added an assist and Petr Sykora put them ahead to stay with his goal 9:29 mark into the third.
Crosby has four goals and seven assists in six games since returning from a groin injury, and an active 10-game point streak.
"It's not something on my mind right now, I'm trying to do my best and help with this last push here," said Crosby, who also has at least one point in each of his last five games against the Thrashers (29-35-6). "It's a big time for us. You see how tight the games are now, every team is desperate and battling hard."
With his team in a tight race, Evgeni Malkin has continued to play despite an illness. Interim coach Dan Blysma told the Penguins' official Web site that the center was given the day off from practice Monday to see a doctor, but the coach believes he'll be ready to go on Tuesday.
"The last few days he hasn't been feeling great, but that's not different from other times of the year when guys are sick," he said. "It was just a situation where it was best to see the doctor and get it taken care of, rule things out and get some rest."
Malkin has been held without a point the last two games. He hasn't gone scoreless in three straight games since a five-game drought Feb. 27-March 6, 2007, when he was still a rookie.
Malkin has two goals and six assists against three games against Atlanta this season - all Pittsburgh victories. The Penguins have defeated the Thrashers four straight times dating to the end of last season.
Meanwhile, Atlanta earned its club-record sixth straight win Monday, beating Washington 5-1 at home as Tobias Enstrom and Slava Kozlov each had a goal and an assist and goaltender Kari Lehtonen recorded a career-high 49 saves.
The Thrashers have outscored opponents 23-9 during the winning streak.
"Certainly as a coaching staff and a management staff, it makes you feel good about your young players and the direction that we are heading," first-year coach John Anderson said. "There are still lots of games left. We care about ourselves and we care about each other."
Anderson's team has scored nine goals in the last two games despite the absence of Kovalchuk. The Atlanta captain, out with an upper-body injury, is fourth in the NHL with 36 goals. His status for Tuesday isn't known.