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Penguins go for division clincher vs. Jets

by Eric Goodman

PENGUINS (48-23-5) at JETS (34-33-10)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 4-5-1; Winnipeg 4-5-1

Season series: This is the second and final game between these teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Winnipeg Jets 6-5 on Jan. 5 in a game that had five lead changes. Penguins forwards James Neal and Evgeni Malkin and Jets left wing Evander Kane scored two goals apiece.

Big story: The Jets are on the brink of elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoff race; a combination of one regulation loss and one win by either the Dallas Stars or Phoenix Coyotes would keep the franchise out of the postseason for a seventh straight season. The Penguins need one point to earn their third division title in the past four seasons, but can achieve the same result with one lost point by the Metropolitan Division-rival Philadelphia Flyers.

Team Scope:

Penguins: Dan Bylsma will be trying for his 250th win as an NHL coach when the Penguins take the ice in Winnipeg, and a big reason for his success since taking over in February 2009 has been an offense led by Sidney Crosby. The Penguins' captain reached 100 points for the fifth time in his career with an assist in a 4-1 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Crosby is running away with the League scoring title despite playing for a team that has lost 479 man-games to injury. He's also making a strong case for the Hart Trophy as League MVP.

"He's 17 points ahead of the next guy [Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf]. That's pretty amazing," Bylsma told the team's website Wednesday. "You can make a fair amount of money in this League getting 20 points, let alone 20 more points than the second-most."

Jets: Winnipeg returns home Thursday after going 2-2-1 on a five-game road trip. With their playoff fate in the hands of a number of other teams in the Western Conference, the Jets are focusing on ending the season on a high note.

They bounced back from surrendering a 4-0 lead and losing 5-4 in overtime to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday by playing a disciplined defensive game and defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout Tuesday. The win bumped Phoenix out of the final wild-card spot in the West for the time being.

"It was such a tough, tough way to come into this building," coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday after the game. "Just to be able to rebound after [Monday] and find a way. I couldn't be happier for the guys."

Who's hot: Crosby is in the midst of a five-game point streak for the Penguins, totaling two goals and four assists. ... Jets right wing Blake Wheeler has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in the past 10 games.

Injury report: Penguins center Joe Vitale (upper body) has been out since March 20 and is questionable for Thursday. Forwards Marcel Goc (foot) and Malkin (foot) are not expected to return until the playoffs. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot in hip), forwards Pascal Dupuis (right knee surgery) and Chris Conner (hand surgery) and defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) are on injured reserve. ... Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian (upper body) and Keaton Ellerby (lower body) are day-to-day. Backup goalie Al Montoya (lower body) is questionable. Defenseman Grant Clitsome (back surgery) and forwards Mark Scheifele (sprained MCL), Chris Thorburn (broken foot) and James Wright (sprained ankle) are on injured reserve.

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