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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins keep turning deficits into victories

Saturday, 03.10.2012 / 12:27 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

One of the hardest things to do in the NHL is win when you're trailing after two periods -- teams that are behind entering the final 20 minutes lose about 85 percent of the time.

But to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a third-period deficit is just a minor inconvenience.

The Penguins overcame a 1-0 deficit after 40 minutes on Friday to beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout for their eighth consecutive victory. Steve Sullivan slid home a backhander for the tying goal --  and after a scoreless overtime, James Neal and Evgeni Malkin scored in the tiebreaker.

It's the second time in as many games that the Penguins won after trailing through two periods -- they beat Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday -- and the eighth time they've done it this season, tying them with Tampa Bay for the League lead.

Combined with the Rangers' 4-3 loss in Chicago, the Penguins have whittled New York's lead in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference to four points entering the weekend.

Saturday's schedule features 11 games. Here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after the four games played Friday night:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (91 points after Friday's 4-3 win/loss at Chicago) twice took leads against the Hawks, but couldn't keep Chicago off the board after Brandon Prust's goal with 12:49 left in regulation. Brad Richards' last-minute goal wasn't enough to keep New York from losing three in a row in regulation for the first time this season. The good news: The Rangers play their next seven games at Madison Square Garden, beginning Sunday against the Islanders.

Boston (83 points) has an early call on Saturday -- the Washington Capitals come to TD Garden for a 1 p.m. ET faceoff (NHLN-US). The Bruins will be trying to win three in a row for the first time since late December.

Florida (75 points after Friday's 2-1 shootout loss at Pittsburgh) led 1-0 after two periods but couldn't get out of Pittsburgh with a win -- although the single point does give the Panthers a three-point lead in the Southeast Division. The Panthers head home for their next four games, beginning Sunday against Carolina.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (87 points after Friday's 2-1 shootout win against Florida)
has turned the Consol Energy Center into a house of horrors for opponents. Pittsburgh is 12-1-0 in its last 13 games on home ice entering Sunday's game against Boston (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN). After that, there's a tough three-game trip that begins Thursday in New York.

Philadelphia (83 points) will take a four-game winning streak into Saturday night's game at Toronto (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US; CBC). Ilya Bryzgalov has been in goal for all four games, winning two by shutout.

New Jersey (81 points) is back on Long Island again on Saturday night -- it's the third time in a week the teams have played, with each winning at home.

Ottawa (80 points) brings a 9-3-1 mark in its last 13 into Saturday night's home game against Buffalo.

Washington (72 points) opens a road trip in Boston on Saturday afternoon. The Caps will be without their best defenseman, Mike Green, who was suspended by the NHL for three games on Saturday for an illegal hit on Tampa Bay's Brett Connolly in the second period of Thursday's 3-2 overtime win.

On the outside looking in:

Winnipeg (72 points after Friday's 5-3 loss at Calgary)
got a warm welcome in its first visit to Scotiabank Saddledome in 16 years -- then got torched by the Flames, who put the Jets in a 3-0 hole less than 13 minutes into the game. The good news for the Jets after back-to-back road losses at Vancouver and Calgary is that their next three games are at home; the bad news is that they don't play until Wednesday, giving everyone else in the East a chance to add points.

Buffalo (70 points) isn’t sure whether high-scoring forward Thomas Vanek will be able to play Saturday night in Buffalo. He was hit hard by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Thursday's 3-1 loss and didn't return.
 
Tampa Bay (69 points) starts a seven-game homestand by hosting Carolina on Saturday night.

Toronto (67 points) desperately needs to beat Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night after losing twice this week under new coach Randy Carlyle.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

St. Louis (93 points) opens a home-and-home series when Columbus comes to Scottrade Center on Saturday. The return match on Sunday is the start of a seven-game road trip.

Vancouver (92 points) figures to have a new power-play alignment when Montreal comes to Rogers Arena on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, CBC). Coach Alain Vigneault plans to go with a four-forward alignment on the top unit to try to shake his team out of a power-play slump that has seen Vancouver score just eight times in its last 69 attempts. Ryan Kesler will move back to the point, Alexandre Burrows moves up front and defenseman  Sami Salo was moved back to the second unit.

Dallas (79 points) could have captain Brenden Morrow back in the lineup when Anaheim comes to the American Airlines Center on Saturday. Morrow was activated off IR on Friday after missing 18 games with an upper-body injury. He's listed as questionable against the Ducks.

The next five:

Detroit (91 after Friday's 4-3 win against Los Angeles)
had only 15 shots -- the Wings' lowest total in nearly eight years -- and was without a half-dozen regulars. But the Wings still found a way to win, rallying from three one-goal deficits before Darren Helm got the game-winner with 1:13 left. It was a good sendoff for the road trip that begins Saturday in Nashville.

Nashville (85 points) will face a tired and battered Detroit team Saturday night at a sure-to-be-backed Bridgestone Arena. It's a game the Preds really need to win -- they play nine of their last 14 on the road.

Chicago (81 points after Friday's 4-3 win against the New York Rangers) trailed 1-0 and 2-1 before scoring three unanswered goals to beat the Rangers. Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya scored 62 seconds apart to turn the 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, and Patrick Kane's empty-netter with 53 seconds left turned out to be the winner when the Rangers scored 12 seconds later.

Phoenix (76 points) hosts struggling San Jose on Saturday. The Coyotes are 0-4-1 this month and have not led at any point in those five games.

San Jose (75 points) comes to Jobing.com Arena for the second of a four-game road trip after a 4-3 shootout loss at Dallas on Thursday in which the Sharks were unable to hold a lead with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.

On the outside looking in:

Calgary (74 points after Friday's 5-3 win against Winnipeg)
scored three times in the first 12:51 against the Jets and got a big night in goal from Miikka Kiprusoff, who finished with 42 saves. The Flames moved into ninth and are just one point out of a playoff spot.

Los Angeles (74 points after Friday's 4-3 loss at Detroit) missed a chance to move into the top eight because it couldn't hold onto leads. The Kings, one of the NHL's top defensive clubs, led by a goal three times but allowed the Wings to get even each time before allowing the game-winner with 73 seconds remaining. L.A. concludes a four-game trip Sunday night in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN2).

Colorado (74 points) had the day off before Edmonton comes to the Pepsi Center on Saturday afternoon. The Oilers are far behind the Avs in the standings -- but Edmonton has won three of the first five meetings this season.

I didn't think it would actually work, but it ended up working, so I'm thanking my lucky stars tonight.

— Columbus forward Nick Foligno on scoring the overtime goal after telling the Blue Jackets in the locker room that he would win the game