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Penguins look for rebound against Panthers

by Sergei J. Feldman
PENGUINS (45-25-8) at PANTHERS (29-37-12)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 6-4-0; Florida 2-5-3

Season series: The Penguins are going for a sweep in the fourth and final meeting of the season against the Panthers. They won the first two in regulation and earned a 2-1 shootout victory at home on Sunday.

Big story: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby continues to progress after being sidelined with a concussion since Jan. 5. Most recently, Crosby has been cleared to join the team in gameday skates, but is not yet cleared to practice. While he looks to improve his health and conditioning, the Penguins aim to skate into the playoffs with as much momentum as they can muster. The Panthers have dropped to last in the East after losing their last seven games.

Team scope:

Penguins: After missing an opportunity to tie Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead Tuesday night, the Penguins had a shot to make a statement against Tampa Bay on Thursday in a potential first-round playoff preview, but came up short in a 2-1 loss. The consecutive losses came after a four-game winning streak with each game ending in a shootout. With four games remaining in the regular season -- three on the road -- the Penguins need wins to hang on to fourth place and the final home-ice berth in the opening round.

"We've got to finish strong," said forward Mike Rupp, who had the lone goal on Thursday. "Our goal is to have Game 1 [of the playoffs] in Pittsburgh."

Panthers: The Panthers played hard but lost in shootouts in the last two games of their road trip, but came up with a clunker in their return to BankAtlantic Center on Thursday, as Ottawa skated away with a 4-1 win.

"Disappointing effort," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We haven't had many of them, but that's one for sure. We got beat in a lot of different areas on the ice. Our best players weren't good, from the goalie to the first line to our leading scorer to anybody. It was a rotten game."

Who's hot: Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been holding the fort for the Penguins between the pipes, giving up two or fewer goals in four of his past five games. .. Florida has seen solid outings from backup goalie Scott Clemmensen who has earned his team points in four of his past five outings.

Injury report: The Penguins' injury list includes Crosby (concussion), Evgeni Malkin (season-ending knee surgery) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee surgery). … Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun hurt his back in the game at Pittsburgh last Sunday and hasn't played since. Alexander Sulzer (groin) is out; Jack Skille (ankle) may be ready to return.

Stat pack: Fleury ranks in the Top 10 among goalies in games played, wins, goals-against-average, minutes played and penalty minutes.

Puck drop: The Penguins will look to put forth a complete effort against the Panthers while looking to continue their chase of the Flyers for the Atlantic Division title -- they now trail by four points.

"I think it showed in the second and the third (against Tampa Bay) the way we can control a game and really press on a team," center Jordan Staal said. "If we start off like that and do that for three periods, it's tough for a team to face that."

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