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Penguins try to keep rolling as Leafs visit

by John Kreiser
MAPLE LEAFS (30-29-7) at PENGUINS (39-21-5)


Last 10: Toronto 2-7-1; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season Series:
It's the fourth and final meeting of the season. Toronto is 2-0-1, having won twice at home and lost 4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 31 at the Consol Energy Center -- the Leafs won 1-0 at home one night later.

Big Story: The Leafs couldn't have found a tougher opponent as they come to town for Game 3 of the Randy Carlyle era. The Penguins are back home after sweeping a two-game trip to Dallas and Colorado to extend their winning streak to six games -- and they got word on Tuesday that Sidney Crosby's return might not be far off.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: After winning at Montreal in Carlyle's coaching debut on Saturday, the Leafs came home on Tuesday and played hard, if not always well, against Boston. But the defensive problems that Toronto had under Ron Wilson were still apparent under Carlyle, and the Leafs came up a goal short in a 5-4 loss that kept them five points behind eighth-place Winnipeg in the East.

"You've got enough goals to win the hockey game," Carlyle said. "It's the defensive aspect of it that needs to be improved upon. ... Tonight was just another indication of the amount work that's necessary on the defensive side of (the game) and the compete side of it and 1-on-1 battles side of it.

Penguins: There's still no timetable for Crosby's return. But he took a big step forward in his return from concussion-related problems on Tuesday when he was cleared for contact at practice.

While glad to have his captain a step closer to playing again, coach Dan Bylsma isn't setting a date for No. 87 to put on a jersey for real.

"It's more in tune with how he feels as he goes through a few days of practice," he said after Tuesday's practice. "Today wasn't extensive in terms of getting a lot of contact. He had some extra drills after practice with some contact. We'll see over the next days before we decide when there might be a date.

Who's Hot: Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski, who signed a five-year contract extension with the Leafs before Tuesday's game, had a goal against Boston and has scored three times in two games under Carlyle. … Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin has six goals and six assists during an eight-game points streak. He's been brilliant against the Leafs, with nine goals and 38 points in 19 career games. …

Injury Report: The Leafs lost forwards Clarke MacArthur (nose) and Joffrey Lupul (upper body) in Tuesday's game; neither is expected to play. Mike Brown is also out with a hand injury … In addition to Crosby, the Penguins are without their best defenseman, Kris Letang, who's still "having symptoms" but has not been diagnosed with a concussion, according to coach Dan Bylsma. Defenseman Daryl Engelland (lower body) is day-to-day; forward Dustin Jeffrey is still battling an illness and may sit. Backup goaltender Brent Johnson practiced Tuesday for the first time since "tweaking something" on Feb. 23.

Stat Pack: Pittsburgh has won four straight home games and is 10-1-0 in its last 11 at the Consol Energy Center. … Despite not giving up a power-play goal for the entire month of January, Toronto is still 29th in penalty-killing at 76.9 percent.

Puck Drop: The possibility that Crosby could be back in a matter of days has Pens' fans dreaming of a Stanley Cup run. One of Bylsma's big concerns is making sure his players stay focused on the present rather than on when No. 87 will be back in the lineup.

"We talked about practice and Sid being in practice with contact -- that was the first time the guys on the ice knew that was coming," he told the Penguins' website. "I don't think any more than normal with the anticipation of getting Crosby back in our lineup and what that means for our team with the playoffs 17 games away. Those questions are swirling around. You see those questions every time they talk about our team is the possibility of that happening. When that happens, it's not due to our players.

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