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Isles end home season by hosting Penguins

by Sergei J. Feldman

PENGUINS (47-25-8) at ISLANDERS (30-38-12)


Last 10 -- Pittsburgh 7-3-0; New York 3-6-1

Season series -- It's the sixth and final meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals. The home team has won the first five. The Penguins lost 2-1 in a shootout in their final game before the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, and suffered their worst loss of the season in a 9-3 blowout in mid-February.

Big story -- It's hard to believe a team that has spent almost all of 2011 without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could win its division, but the Penguins have a chance to do just that. They come to Long Island for the final time this season just one point behind Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division, with road games against the battered Islanders and erratic Thrashers still to play.

Team scope:

Penguins -- After stumbling to Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to close out March, the Penguins have responded with consecutive wins against Florida and New Jersey. Without superstars Crosby and Malkin in the lineup, the Penguins' offense has relied on opportunistic play, while the defense and the strong play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has held the fort.

"Once we didn't get the win against Philly, did I anticipate getting back to one point against them? No," coach Dan Bylsma said after Tuesday's 4-2 win against the Devils. "We have to pick up two in two games to overtake them now, but it's a lot closer than I thought it'd be."

Islanders -- The Isles lead the NHL in man-games lost to injuries, one of the key reasons it will be another playoff-less spring on Long Island. But they're not mailing it in -- New York gave the Bruins all they could handle in Wednesday night's 3-2 loss at Boston, a game that saw the Isles dress five rookie defensemen and still hold the Bruins without a goal on five power plays.

"Our penalty kill over the past, I don't even know how long, has kept us in games and has given us that momentum," goalie Rick DiPietro said after the Bruins loss. "Unfortunately, we went into that first intermission giving up that goal with .01 seconds (left). We didn't let it get us down, we continued to work hard and our guys played great."

Who's hot -- While Fleury continues to hold the fort in net for the Penguins, the offense has come from Jordan Staal who has five points in his past two games. .. The Isles have relied on Michael Grabner, who is coming off a two-goal game and leads all rookies with 33 goals, including six while shorthanded.

Injury report -- The most recent additions to the Isles' M*A*S*H unit include defenseman Jack Hillen (day-to-day, shoulder), forward Frans Nielsen (out for season, concussion) and defenseman Milan Jurcina (out for season, hip). … Pittsburgh remains without Crosby, who continues to progress with concussion symptoms, Malkin (knee surgery) and Dustin Jeffrey, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Stat pack -- The Penguins have allowed more than two goals just once in their past seven games and have gone 5-2-0 in that span.

Puck drop -- The teams combined for more than 300 penalty minutes the last time the Penguins came to the Nassau Coliseum. Neither team expects anything close to a repeat.

"We just want a hockey game," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We have the playoffs (coming up) so no one needs to break a hand or a finger or pop a shoulder out doing something stupid. We have a lot more to lose than they do right now."

Said Isles forward Micheal Haley: "Sometimes games like this, there is all the hype and it's just another game. They're in the playoffs, so they'll be worried about that. It's tough to say what could happen. I am sure there will still be emotions, but I don't know if it will be like last time
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