PENGUINS (46-27-7) at THRASHERS (34-34-13)
Pittsburgh 5-3-2; Atlanta 3-5-2
Fourth and final meeting. Pittsburgh is bidding for a sweep, having dealt one of the major blows to Atlanta's playoff hopes with a 4-3 overtime win last Saturday at Mellon Arena. Sergei Gonchar's power-play goal with 1:14 left in regulation forced the extra period, where fellow blueliner Jordan Leopold scored at 2:50 to end it.
From a team standpoint, the Penguins need this game as they battle the Devils for the Atlantic Division title. The teams have identical records with two games remaining, but New Jersey swept the season series and thus owns the tiebreaker. From an individual standpoint, Sidney Crosby
tries to tie and perhaps overtake Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring lead. Ovi reached 50 with a pair on Friday, while Sid the Kid has 49.
Pittsburgh and New Jersey have jockeyed back and forth for the division lead in recent weeks -- the Penguins drew even again Thursday when they throttled the Islanders 7-3 in the final regular-season game at Mellon Arena while the Devils fell 3-2 to the Panthers. Crosby finished with a goal and three assists. It was originally thought he reached the 50-goal plateau, but his second of the night was later changed to a goal for Bill Guerin, who scored a pair and recorded his 13th career 20-goal season.
"I thought right away when I shot it, I thought it hit Billy's leg or hand. Obviously, I asked him right after and he said it did go off his pants," Crosby said. "It would have been great to be able to get it here, but at the end of the day goals go to guys that deserve them and he deserved that one."
The gas tank finally hit empty for Atlanta once the calendar page turned to April. The Thrashers are 0-3-1 since a 3-2 win in Toronto on March 30, including that heartbreaking loss to the Penguins. They were eliminated in their following game after being shut out on home ice by the Devils. Atlanta put up a good fight in Washington on Friday but lost 5-2, with Ovechkin scoring the tying and go-ahead goals.
"His teammates tried to help him," said goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who made 42 saves and could hardly be faulted for the loss.
Crosby has two goals and eight assists during a three-game points streak for the Penguins. Guerin has two goals and two assists in his last two games. Leopold has three goals in as many games.
Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz
is day-to-day with a shoulder injury, while forward Alexei Ponikarovsky is serving the first of a two-game suspension for a boarding incident against New York.
Atlanta is without defensemen Boris Valabik
(knee), Christoph Schubert (hip) and Pavel Kubina (upper body) and forwards Todd White (upper body), Nik Antropov (undisclosed) and Vyacheslav Kozlov (head).
While his 50th goal was taken away, Crosby still reached 500 career points on Thursday and, at 22 years, 244 days, became the third-youngest player in NHL history to get there. Wayne Gretzky was 21 years, 52 days, and Mario Lemieux was 22 years, 172 days. … Thrashers defenseman Arturs Kulda, called up for Friday's game, picked up his second career assist in his third NHL game. The 21-year-old made his debut with a two-game prior to the Olympic break in February.
"He kind of lives up to the moment, it seems like all the time," defenseman Brooks Orpik
said of Crosby's performance against the Islanders. "It was just one of those nights where it seemed like he had that extra jump and he was going."