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Pens, Thrashers set to finish regular season

by Sergei J. Feldman
PENGUINS (48-25-8) at THRASHERS (34-25-12)


Last 10 — Pittsburgh 7-3-0; Atlanta 4-6-0.

Season series — This is the fourth and final meeting between the Eastern Conference foes. Pittsburgh looks to sweep Atlanta, outscoring the Thrashers, 13-6, through three games.

Big story — Pittsburgh was looking to skate into Atlanta with the chance to grab the Atlantic Division title, but instead knows it will face Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs after Philadelphia defeated the New York Islanders on Saturday night. After Atlanta nearly played spoiler for the New York Rangers, they will look to close out the 2010-11 regular season on a positive note and halt whatever momentum the Penguins might be able to carry into the playoffs.

Team scope:

Penguins — The Penguins haven't lost a game in April, defeating the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders in the process and aim for a fourth straight victory before skating into the playoffs against the Lightning for Game 1 at Consol Energy Center. Impressively, despite injuries to both stars and role players, the Penguins have held fort in the Eastern Conference and came within a tie-break of capturing the Atlantic Division. The Pens hope to close out the regular season with a solid effort in Atlanta, where they've already won earlier in the season that's gone by fast and has thrown many obstacles their way.

"Yeah, it's had its ups and downs," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "A lot of injuries, a lot of different things happened this year. A new building, the Winter Classic, HBO stuff – a lot of stuff was in our way to get to 82 games. But we're at 82 right now for our next game, and we're almost ready for the playoffs, so it's an exciting time of year."

Thrashers — The Thrashers faltered down the stretch, losing three of four games in April with the lone victory coming against a hungry Rangers' team. Now, the Thrashers have one final shot to impress fans with the last home contest of the regular season, especially after a disappointing effort against the Hurricanes, in which they fell, 6-1, Friday night.

"I felt like a loser," goalie Ondrej Pavelec said after the game. It's hard to talk about [the loss to Carolina] now. To be down 6-0 in front of our home fans is very disappointing."

Coach Craig Ramsay agreed, adding, "We looked like a team that just played five games in a row on the road. Unfortunately, we can't talk about that or use it as an excuse, but we looked tired. We tried to win this game as individuals, instead of as a team. Anytime you do that, it never works."

Who's hot — Trade deadline acquisition Alex Kovalev has gotten more comfortable with the game plan in Pittsburgh and as collected three points in his last five outings. Meanwhile, Thrashers leading scorer and captain, Andrew Ladd, is riding a three-game point streak.

Injury report — The Penguins are still without Sidney Crosby who is recovering from a concussion, Evgeni Malkin who is out for the season with a knee injury and Dustin Jeffrey, who is also out for the year after undergoing knee surgery. Thrashers defenseman Tobias Enstrom is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.

Stat pack — Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Kris Letang are both in the Top 10 in wins and points, respectively, in their positions.

Puck drop — While there won't be much on the line when the Penguins skate into Atlanta, the competition still figures to be fierce, even for the Thrashers, whose season will come to a close.

"We know it's too late right now, but we still want to win the games," Pavelec said. "It's the NHL. When you step on the ice you want to play as hard as you can."

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