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Penguins in pursuit of first as they host Islanders

by Eric Goodman
ISLANDERS (31-33-11) at PENGUINS (47-22-6)


Last 10:
New York 4-4-2; Pittsburgh 8-1-1

Season series:
This is the fifth of six meetings between these teams. Pittsburgh owns a perfect 4-0-0 record against New York this season. The Penguins have also won 11 straight home games versus the Islanders.

Big Story:
The Penguins are still chasing the New York Rangers in the standings and remain just one point out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining on each team's schedule. While a win over the Islanders is not guaranteed, Pittsburgh has dominated the head-to-head series recently, including a current five-game winning streak over the Long Island team. Meanwhile, a victory by the Atlantic Division's last-place Isles would help their bitter rivals, the Rangers, toward claiming the top spot in the East.

Team Scope:

Islanders: The Isles are not yet mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but they would have to be nearly perfect over their remaining seven games to have any sort of legitimate shot. However, the young Islanders squad can still greatly affect the Eastern Conference standings, as six of their final seven games are against East teams battling for playoff spots.

The push to play the playoff spoiler begins Tuesday in Pittsburgh, which is the first in a home-and-home series against the Pens. The Isles will look to duplicate Sunday's effort, in which the team tied the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers in the third period and eventually won 3-2 in a shootout. Forward Frans Nielsen recorded an assist and also had the game-winning goal in the shootout.

"We came out a little flat in the first period," Nielsen told "(The Panthers) knew we played last night so they came out hard. In the second and third we got the legs going and I liked the way we played."

Pittsburgh remains as a top contender out of the East this season, boasting a potent offense, solid defense and an All-Star caliber goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. While Evgeni Malkin continues to impress with his team-leading 46 goals, the secondary scoring led by James Neal (36 goals), Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Jordan Staal (23 goals each) has made it incredibly difficult to beat the Penguins. And, of course, Pittsburgh also has superstar Sidney Crosby, who appears to finally be hitting his stride with 2 goals and 11 assists since returning from injury on March 15.

The Penguins showed just how even the scoring attack can be on Sunday by outplaying a very capable New Jersey Devils team and ending up with a 5-2 home victory. Crosby, Dupuis, Kunitz, Malkin and Staal each recorded a goal and an assist in the win, proving that almost anyone on the ice sporting a sweater with a skating penguin on it can beat you on any given night. The win was much needed for the Pens after getting blown out, 8-4, in their previous game against Ottawa.

"We did some good things," Crosby told "I still think we got better, which is a good thing. To bounce back that way after giving up eight goals (Saturday to the Senators) and not playing the way we wanted to was important."

Who's Hot: Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo tallied a goal in each of his last two games. He also leads the team with 1 goal and 2 assists over four games played against Pittsburgh this season. … Pascal Dupuis is in the midst of a 10-game points streak for the Pens with 8 goals and 5 assists over that span. The right wing also leads the team with 7 points (2g, 5a) against the Islanders this season.

Injury Report:
The Pens will be without forward Joe Vitale, defenseman Matt Niskanen and goalie Brent Johnson, as all remain listed as day-to-day with various injuries. … The Islanders expect to have a fully healthy lineup.

Stat Pack:
The Penguins are 17-2-3 in their last 22 games against the Islanders.

Puck Drop: Although Pittsburgh spread the offense while missing Crosby for the majority of this season, it's actually been Hart Trophy favorite Malkin who has been the driving force behind most of the success this season.

"It doesn't matter the situation. It seems like he scores timely goals for our team. He always finds a way for us to get back into it," Kunitz said of his linemate to reporter Michelle Crechiolo.

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