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Penguins-Hurricanes Preview

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GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (12-34-11) at Carolina Hurricanes (38-13-4).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EST.

All the Pittsburgh Penguins can hope for now is a strong finish.

They'll look to shake a frustrating slump as they visit the Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes.

The Penguins have lost 17 of their last 18 games, including Wednesday's 3-1 defeat to the Boston Bruins. Coach Michel Therrien didn't hide his frustration with his team, the worst in the NHL.

"It was a bad performance," Therrien said after Pittsburgh was outshot 38-17 to fall to 1-15-2 since Jan. 3. "It started the first shift. (Goalie) Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding tonight. It could have been pretty ugly. I am really disappointed with their performance.

"Unacceptable performance for those players. Unacceptable. ... It's not a matter of confidence. It's a matter of hard work."

The Penguins have some reason for hope. In 2003-04, the last NHL season, they rebounded from an 18-game losing streak and closed the season with the second-best 20-game finish (12-5-3) in team history.

Pittsburgh has 25 games left this season. However, some of the players aren't sure whether a similar finish is possible.

"We will see what happens," said center Ryan Malone, one of only seven non-goalies on the active roster who were around in 2004. "I think the biggest thing two years ago was we ended up (acquiring) some character-type guys like Landon Wilson, Jon Sim and Lasse Pirjeta, some older guys that have been around like Ric Jackman ... We've got the trade deadline coming up and if (General Manager Craig Patrick) wants to make any moves, we will see."

Defenseman Brooks Orpik said a roster shake-up might help, but that he saw "no signs" that a strong finish is in the cards this season.

"It's not like that team was a lot better than this team," Orpik said. "(But) guys came to the rink every day and worked hard. A lot of it is confidence. You get a few wins and start rolling with guys that want to be here. Right now we're losing and guys are just kind of showing up."

Pittsburgh has allowed 15 goals in its last 48 short-handed situations.

"There are certain things a coaching staff can do," Therrien said. "But it's up to the players to be prepared. It's part of their responsibility to come and be ready to play and ready to work. Tonight was a bad performance."

The Hurricanes lost for just the third time in 18 games Thursday, falling 5-3 to Southeast Division rival Tampa Bay. Erik Cole, Aaron Ward and Anton Babchuk scored for Carolina, which still leads the second-place Lightning by 14 points in the Southeast.

"We'll just have to cut this one off on the plane ride home and be ready to come back and play (Friday)," Cole said.

Center Matt Cullen returned after missing four games with a broken jaw.

STANDINGS: Penguins - 35 points, 5th place, 39 PB, Atlantic Division. Hurricanes - 80 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Sidney Crosby, 26 goals, 35 assists and 61 points; Sergei Gonchar, 80 PIM. Hurricanes - Eric Staal, 34 goals and 71 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 37 assists; Mike Commodore, 90 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Penguins - Power play: 17.9 percent (63 for 352), 15th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.4 percent (295 for 381), 30th. Hurricanes - Power play: 19.6 percent (70 for 358), 7th. Penalty killing: 81.5 percent (243 for 298), 17th.

GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Fleury (6-20-4, 3.30 GAA); Sebastien Caron (5-4-4, 4.29). Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (27-8-2, 3 SO, 2.69); Cam Ward (11-4-2, 3.41).

SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 29; Hurricanes, 5-3. At Pittsburgh, Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley, Ray Whitney and Justin Williams all scored third-period goals as Carolina rallied from a two-goal deficit.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 5-18-5 on the road; Hurricanes - 23-4-1 at home.

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