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Panthers continue trip in Pittsburgh

by Tal Pinchevsky
PANTHERS (29-36-10) at PENGUINS (44-23-8)

TV - FS-Florida (HD), FS-Pittsburgh (HD)

Last 10 -- Florida 3-5-2; Pittsburgh 7-2-1

Season series -- This is the third of four meetings this season between two teams who haven't seen each other crossed paths in more than three months. In their last meeting on Dec. 22, Sidney Crosby's goal stretched his scoring streak to 18 games and led the Pens to a 5-2 win. The two teams will meet again in Florida on April 2.

Big story - A lot has changed since Florida and Pittsburgh last played each other. The Panthers have faded from the postseason picture while the Pens are closing in on clinching home ice in the first round of the playoffs despite the prolonged absence of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Team Scope:

-- This is the fourth game of what's been a tough trip for Florida. The Panthers were shut out 1-0 in New York and 4-0 in Chicago on consecutive nights before heading to Buffalo on Friday. Sergei Samsonov broke the goal drought early in the first period when he tied the game at 1-1, but Buffalo scored the next three goals and won 4-2.

The game appeared to turn when Panthers forward David Booth was injured late in the first period when he was struck in the throat by a shoot-in along the boards. Booth was taken to hospital for precautionary reasons but was cleared to join the team shortly thereafter.

Penguins - Despite serious injuries to their two stars and a long-term suspension to forward Matt Cooke, the Pens have come together as a team. They've won three in a row, all via shootout, and five of their last six. Pittsburgh plays five of its remaining seven games against teams not currently occupying a playoff spot, giving them an opportunity to overtake in-state rival Philadelphia for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

Against the Devils on Friday, Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur pitched dual shutouts before James Neal scored the lone goal in the shootout, giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 win. The first period saw just four shots on goal -- three by Pittsburgh and one by the Devils.

"I did some squats and pushups just to stay a little warm," Fleury joked. "In the second, I got more shots and it was better."

Who's hot - Samsonov has been a primary offensive contributor since coming to the Panthers at the Trade Deadline, registering 7 points in his last six games. … For the Penguins, Tyler Kennedy has 7 points in his last six games while linemate Chris Kunitz has 9 points in that span.

Injury report - Booth remains questionable for the game while Byron Bitz (hernia surgery) and Rostislav Olesz (knee) are on IR. … While Pittsburgh's walking wounded include Malkin (knee), Crosby (concussion), Dustin Jeffrey (knee), Eric Tangradi (concussion), and Brent Johnson (upper-body injury), Brooks Orpik is expected to return from a broken finger.

Stat pack - The Penguins boast the League's best penalty kill while the Panthers sport the League's second-worst power play.

Puck drop - Fleury's birthday is on Nov. 28, but one could argue that his favorite day of the year is March 25. He has registered a shutout on that day four different times (2007, '08, '09, '11). This year's shutout was the first involving a shootout.

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