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Islanders can close gap on second-place Penguins

New York missing Hamonic for final regular-season games; Pittsburgh's Dumoulin could play

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PENGUINS (44-25-8) at ISLANDERS (42-25-9)

TV: 1 p.m. ET; SN, ROOT, MSG+

Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins have won two of the first three games against the New York Islanders this season, including a 2-1 shootout win March 15. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang scored in the shootout after forward Chris Kunitz and Islanders forward Kyle Okposo scored in regulation.

Penguins team scope: Pittsburgh will attempt to solidify its hold on second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 10th win against a division opponent in its past 13 tries (9-3-0). The Penguins enter Saturday one point ahead of the New York Rangers, who play the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, with five games to play. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who practiced Friday, could return after missing three games because of an upper-body injury. "I think he's had a couple of pretty good days, which is great progress from his standpoint," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's getting a lot closer." If Dumoulin does play, Sullivan could have some difficult choices to make regarding his defense corps. Trevor Daley, Dumoulin's partner before the injury, has replaced Olli Maatta, who is week-to-week because of a lower-body injury, next to Kris Letang. That pair has impressed in Dumoulin's absence and likely will remain intact until Maatta returns. Forward Bryan Rust, day-to-day because of a lower-body injury, did not practice Friday. Sullivan said Maatta and Rust are slowly progressing but aren't ready to play yet. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was given a maintenance day Friday and could be replaced by goalie Matthew Murray against the Islanders or the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.

Islanders team scope: A regulation win could pull New York to within one point of second place in the division if the Rangers lose to the Sabres. Given that scenario, the Islanders would control their own fate moving forward with one game in hand on the Penguins and Rangers. The Islanders will play the remainder of the regular season without defenseman Travis Hamonic, who sustained a lower-body injury during the first period of a 4-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Islanders coach Jack Capuano announced Friday the injury would force Hamonic to miss the remainder of the regular season. Hamonic's status will be re-evaluated following the regular season, when his availability for the playoffs will be determined. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky is expected to be slotted into the lineup after last playing March 6 because of an upper-body injury. Rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock, who has played 10 games, gives New York another option, but Capuano said he would favor experience when evaluating defensive pairings.

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