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Penguins-Hurricanes Preview @NHLdotcom

Just over a month ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes were in danger of missing the playoffs.

With a week left in the regular season, they're both trying to secure home-ice advantage for a first-round series.

Two of the league's hottest teams square off Saturday night in Carolina when the surging Penguins visit a Hurricanes team trying to win its eighth straight game and extend its franchise-best home winning streak to 11 in a row.

Pittsburgh, Carolina and Philadelphia are all in a tight race for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, although neither the Penguins nor Hurricanes looked like they'd be in this position a month ago.

Pittsburgh was in 10th on Feb. 24 but has gone 13-1-2 since, while Carolina is 11-1-2 since the beginning of March after ending February tied for eighth. They're now both in position to host a first-round series.

"That's the thing we're trying to chase right now - we're not worrying about people tying to catch us," said Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 5-1-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and one shutout in starting the last six games. "We want to keep winning. That would be huge, home-ice advantage."

The Penguins have had little trouble winning in Pittsburgh and made the most of the longest homestand in franchise history.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each scored power-play goals in Wednesday's 6-1 victory over New Jersey, as Pittsburgh went 6-1-1 on the homestand.

"We wanted to take advantage of it, we said that from the start, it was a good scenario but we still had some games to win," said Crosby, who has nine goals and 18 assists during a 16-game point streak. "We did a great job here, now we've got to keep going."

Crosby, who is one point shy of his third 100-point season in four years, has a goal and six assists in three games versus the Hurricanes this season with Pittsburgh going 2-1-0 in those contests. Fleury is 1-1-0 with a 1.52 GAA versus Carolina.

The Penguins open a three-game road trip and play four of their final five away from Pittsburgh. They are 5-0-1 on the road since Feb. 27 but have not played away from Mellon Arena since a 4-3 shootout loss to Columbus on March 12.

Continuing the success from the homestand won't be easy in Carolina, where the Hurricanes have won a franchise-best 10 in a row since a 5-1 loss to Boston on Feb. 17.

Carolina set the record with Thursday's 4-2 win over the New York Rangers to surpass the mark set in 2005-06 - when it went on to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes haven't been to the playoffs since but that looks like it's going to change.

"We've got to keep this train rolling," said center Eric Staal, who had a goal and an assist against the Rangers.

Chad LaRose and Rod Brind'Amour scored 28 seconds apart in the third period Thursday for Carolina, which is on its longest win streak since reeling off nine in a row in 2005-06.

Goalie Cam Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the 2006 playoffs, has been instrumental to Carolina's success, making 25 consecutive starts. He made 36 saves Thursday and is 17-6-2 with a 2.29 GAA and two shutouts since his last day off.

Although Ward has been a staple in Carolina's net for the past two months, he has only made one start against the Penguins this season, stopping 32 shots in a 2-1 victory on Jan. 20. He is 8-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA lifetime versus Pittsburgh.

The Hurricanes have three more games at the RBC Center before wrapping up the regular season next Saturday in New Jersey.

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