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Five things to watch in Rivalry Night doubleheader

by Brian Compton

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won back-to-back games and are in a heated race to secure home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers would like to do nothing more than to help deny them that opportunity.

Pittsburgh (42-23-11) has earned points in four of its past five games, including a 3-2 shootout victory against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.

Philadelphia (30-29-17), which has points in two of its past three, is coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to San Jose on Saturday. The Flyers have four games remaining against teams battling for playoff position.

The Penguins, who are 3-1-1 in their past five games, will try to secure two more points when they host the Flyers at Consol Energy Center in the first game of a Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN1).

"No matter how the year goes for us or them, it's always a big rivalry and heated games, a lot of emotion and intensity in them," defenseman Paul Martin said, according to the Penguins website. "I'm sure I wouldn't expect anything different."

In the nightcap, the Sharks will face the Colorado Avalanche at SAP Center (NBCSN, SN1, 10:30 p.m. ET). San Jose (37-30-9) has earned points in three straight games as it tries to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.

The Sharks trail the Winnipeg Jets by seven points for the second wild from the Western Conference with six games remaining. The Avalanche (35-28-12) are one point behind the Sharks and they've played one fewer game.

Here are five things to watch in the two Wednesday Night Rivalry games:

1. Penguins going with five defensemen

The injury bug has hit Pittsburgh hard again in recent weeks. The Penguins are expected to be without Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang (upper-body injuries) on Wednesday, which leaves them with five healthy defensemen (Martin, Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole and Derrick Pouliot) against the Flyers. Four of those five played at least 25 minutes against San Jose on Sunday. Pouliot is expected to replace Letang on the first power-play unit.

"Everyone needs to step up, every single guy, all five of us have to step up and take on more minutes, more responsibility, create more and help out as much as we can," Cole told the Penguins website on Tuesday. "It's exciting. I get to play a lot more. I get to be in the flow of the game. That part is a positive as long as you don't get too tired."

2. Crosby continues pursuit of Art Ross Trophy, 300 goals

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby leads the NHL with 79 points (25 goals, 54 assists) and is closing in on what would be his third Art Ross Trophy as the League's top scorer.

Crosby has an opportunity to reach a milestone Wednesday; he enters the game with 299 goals.

"When you're hovering around it, you don't want to really talk about it," Crosby said Tuesday. "You just try to get it and move on. I don't think I think about it a whole lot, but when you get close you want to make sure you get it."

3. Flyers seeking third straight win against Penguins

It's been a rough season in Philadelphia, but the Flyers have experienced success against one of their biggest rivals. They've won the first two games against the Penguins this season and on Wednesday will have the first of two chances to play spoiler; Philadelphia will host Pittsburgh on Sunday (12:30 p.m.; NBC, SN).

"It is a huge rivalry," defenseman Mark Streit told the Flyers website on Tuesday. "Those games are so special to us and the fans. It's a lot of fun to play. We always find a way to play really well against them. I think [Wednesday] is going to be no different. It's a big game for us and a huge rivalry and it's exciting to play and we want to get a win."

Alex Stalock
Goalie - SJS
RECORD: 7-7-2
GAA: 2.55 | SVP: .905
4. Stalock likely to start third straight for Sharks

CSN Bay Area reported Tuesday that San Jose goalie Alex Stalock is expected to make his third straight start on Wednesday. Antti Niemi is battling an illness and likely won't be ready to go against Colorado.

Stalock is 7-7-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. He has allowed in goals over his past three starts.

"Obviously leaning towards Alex because of that, and Alex has played well the last two nights," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Tuesday.

5. O'Reilly finishing strong

Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly is playing like someone who doesn't want to see the season end next week. He enters Wednesday with an eight-game point streak and has five goals and 19 assists in the past 21 games.

O'Reilly was named the NHL's Third Star on Monday after scoring one goal and seven assists in four games last week, which included three straight multi-point games.

"I feel more control out there. I feel like I can impact the game more," O'Reilly told the Avalanche website. "Early in the year, I wasn't sure. I didn't want the puck as much. I didn't want to dictate as much. Now it's changed. The last couple months, I have constantly tried to find it and it's been improving where I'm getting out there and I have the puck on my stick and have the game on my stick and want that feeling and want the pressure of the game, I guess. It's definitely changed, and it's been a big lesson that I can hopefully continue to keep doing."


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