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Penguins aim for third straight win vs. Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter

HURRICANES (32-32-11) at PENGUINS (48-22-5)


Last 10: Carolina 4-4-2; Pittsburgh 4-5-1

Season series: This is the fourth and final game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes will be looking for their first win against the Penguins in six games dating back to the 2012-13 season. They've been outscored 25-12 during the losing streak. This season, Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen has three goals and six points against the Hurricanes.

Big story: Seven games in April stand between Pittsburgh and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following a 2-5-1 stretch, the Penguins have put together consecutive solid victories against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks and will look to keep their strong play going against the Hurricanes, who must keep winning to stave off elimination.

The Penguins would clinch the Metropolitan Division title if they defeat the Hurricanes in any fashion, or if they get one point against the Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers lose to the St. Louis Blues in any fashion, or if the Flyers lose to the Blues in regulation.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: It figures to be a tough bounce-back game for Carolina one night after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators in a battle between teams that almost had to secure two points to keep their hopes for the playoffs alive. The Hurricanes walked away with only one.

Making matters even more difficult, they also lost two scoring forwards over the course of the night. Jiri Tlusty and Andrei Loktionov, who comprised two-thirds of the top line along with captain Eric Staal, each left the game with upper-body injuries and did not return. Tlusty has 14 goals this season; Loktionov has six points in 13 games since being acquired from the New Jersey Devils.

"It's tough," coach Kirk Muller said. "There was a lot of fight in our guys and we're battling every night, and every point means something."

Penguins: On the verge of wrapping up the Metropolitan, the focus for Pittsburgh is hitting its stride heading into the postseason and getting some key players back. Defenseman Paul Martin, out since breaking his hand while playing for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was cleared to practice Monday and hopes to return by the end of the week.

"I would like to play [Tuesday], but I don't think that's going to happen," Martin told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Realistically, I think Winnipeg [on Thursday] would be nice, but maybe a longshot with only a couple practices. But I'd definitely like to play back home this weekend Saturday."

The Penguins visit the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. Martin is a Minneapolis native.

Also at practice Monday was defenseman Kris Letang, who hasn't played since Jan. 27 as he recovers from a stroke, and forward Joe Vitale, who has missed the past six games with what coach Dan Bylsma termed a "mid-body injury."

Who's hot: Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner scored his 30th goal of the season Monday. He has a goal in four straight games and a five-game point streak. … Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has two goals and three assists during a four-game point streak. Forward Chris Kunitz has two goals and two assists during a three-game point streak.

Injury report: Tlusty and Loktionov are day-to-day for Carolina. … Pittsburgh forwards Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Marcel Goc (foot) aren't expected back until the playoffs. Letang, Vitale, goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) and forward Chris Conner (hand) also remain out.

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