HURRICANES (29-33-8) at PENGUINS (42-24-5)
Last 10 --
Carolina 6-3-1; Pittsburgh 6-2-2
Season series --
It's the last of four and the Penguins have a split in mind. The Hurricanes having taken the last two meetings. They've been played every way possible, the Carolina wins coming in regulation and overtime, the Penguins' win in a shootout.
Big story --
The Penguins start a four-game stretch in which they will face all the teams they eliminated en route to the Stanley Cup last postseason and try to open up a margin between themselves and the Devils, who the 'Canes knocked out last spring in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. To that end, the return of Evgeni Malkin
after a two-game absence will be particularly welcome.
While the Penguins relive last year's playoff run, the Hurricanes have the pleasure of seeing how some of their younger players measure up to the League's best. They will have faced both the Capitals and Penguins twice in a 10-day period. Of the three games played so far, all have gone into overtime, two won by the 'Canes.
"Coach (Paul) Maurice actually had a pretty good comment before the game (on Thursday)," veteran forward Ray Whitney said. "He said, 'Young guys, you have the opportunity to show what you have, playing the top team.' It's tough now in the situation that we're in, but you're kind of demanded to lead by example and do the best you can in a bad situation."
Whitney did just that, scoring in overtime to beat the Alex Ovechkin-less Caps 4-3.
It's only been two games, but the Penguins missed Malkin anyway, particularly Sidney Crosby
. While the two stars rarely play on the same line and only share the ice on the power play, Crosby has been kept off the board in those two games, his longest point drought since a five-game stretch from Oct. 31-Nov. 10 when Malkin was out with a strained right shoulder.
Malkin returned to full practice Friday for the first time since taking a Kris Letang
shot off his foot in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 14.
"I feel great," Malkin said. "I was able to skate the whole practice, although not too fast. I feel better."
The Pens split the two games, getting thumped in New Jersey 5-2 but turning in their first shutout of the season on Thursday, blanking Boston 3-0.
Who's hot --
Crosby's two-game dry spell ended a nine-game point streak. He's still tied for third with Nicklas Backstrom of Washington for third in the NHL with 87 points. … Eric Staal
has a goal and an assist in each of his last two games against the Penguins. He also had a goal and assist in the Capitals game, which tied him with Jussi Jokinen
for the team lead with 56 points. Whitney's 52 points mark the seventh time in the past eight seasons he's topped the 50 mark.
Injury report --
While Malkin is a game-time decision, Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason
's status is clearer. A broken foot will effectively put him out of commission for the season.
Stat pack --
The Pens continue to struggle with a man advantage, going 0-for-4 on Thursday to make it 2-for-19 on the road trip. That certainly doesn't help a power play that's 23rd in the league at 16.8 percent. Jordan Staal
, Eric's brother, scored his very first goal against the 'Canes in 15 games in their last meeting on March. 11.
Puck drop --
"It's been going well for us, knock on wood. Hopefully things can keep going the same way and we'll be ready for the playoffs." -- Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury