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Panthers try to derail streaking Penguins

by Sergei J. Feldman
PANTHERS (31-23-12) at PENGUINS (40-21-5)


Last 10: Florida 4-5-1; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season Series : This is the fourth and final season meeting, with Pittsburgh holding a 2-1 edge. Dating back to 2009, Pittsburgh holds a 9-2-0 edge in the series. In the first week of the season, the Pens edged the Panthers 4-2 in the only other meeting at Consol Energy Center.

Big Story: Pittsburgh has quietly become the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, using a League-best seven-game win streak to pull within six points of the New York Rangers for the conference lead. The Panthers, seeking their first playoff berth since 2000, are trying to hold on to the Southeast Division lead.

Team Scope:

Panthers: While the Panthers still maintain an edge atop the Southeast Division standings, the club has struggled of late. Florida has dropped three of its past four games, including a 7-0 defeat to the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday and a 5-0 wipeout by the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday. Things don't get easier when the Panthers visit Consol Energy Center, but with a win, things can turn around quickly, as the club will have a four-game homestand waiting for them.

"It is pretty much black and white right there in the papers every day," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Have a look at it. You see what teams are doing; what Buffalo is doing, what Winnipeg is doing -- they are winning games. It could go pretty quick if you can't turn stuff around."

Penguins : After compiling a 9-2-0 record over their last 11 and having lost only once at Consol since Jan. 17, a loss at the hands of slumping Toronto seemed unlikely. But a scoreless first period turned into a 2-0 Leafs lead midway through the second, and it looked as if the streak would come to an unceremonious conclusion. The Penguins rallied, however, as Pascal Dupuis scored twice and added an assist to give his team a 3-2 win. Brad Thiessen made 22 saves in his second start since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

"The way we've been playing, we feel like we can come back in every game and we proved it again tonight," Dupuis said.

Who's Hot: Marcel Goc has points in three of his past five games to lead the Panthers. … Meanwhile, for the Penguins, since returning from a concussion on Feb. 11, Jordan Staal has seven goals and eight assists in 12 games - including the game-tying tally against Toronto.

Injury Report: Kris Versteeg (lower body) and Scottie Upshall (abdomen) are day-to-day for the Panthers … Dustin Jeffrey (illness) and Deryk Engelland (lower body) are questionable for Friday's game. Kris Letang (concussion-like symptoms) and Brent Johnson (lower body) are out indefinitely, while Sidney Crosby, still sidelined with concussion and soft tissue damage in his neck, is able to take contact at practice.

Stat Pack: Florida has the lowest goals for/against differential among division leaders (-26). The second lowest is Dallas (-1).

Puck Drop: During Pittsburgh's protracted run of form at Consol - 11-1-0 since Jan. 17 - the Penguins have erased two-goal deficits seven times. In all, the Penguins have won a League-high nine times when trailing by more than one goal.

"That's not that common in the League to be able to come back like that; teams are usually pretty good at holding those leads," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We just do a really good job of sticking with it, staying aggressive. We don't have to change a whole lot when we're down. We just keep playing the same game. Guys are committed to making that strong push."

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