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GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (12-43-5-4) at New York Islanders (30-23-9-2).

TIME: Sunday, 4 p.m. EST.

The New York Islanders are looking to strengthen their grip on a playoff spot. A home-and-home series against the NHL-worst Pittsburgh Penguins should provide that opportunity.

The Islanders hold the eighth and final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference with 71 points, but are within striking distance of seventh-place Montreal.

Coming off an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the archrival New York Rangers on Thursday, the Islanders rebounded with an important 4-2 victory at Buffalo on Friday.

Rick DiPietro made a career-high 42 saves and Oleg Kvasha had a goal and two assists for New York, which had a nine-game home unbeaten streak (6-0-3) stopped Thursday.

"He was unbelievable tonight," Kvasha said of DiPietro. "It gives you confidence when the goalie plays like Deep played tonight. It gives you extra jump."

DiPietro has allowed just three goals in his last three starts, stopping 94 of 97 shots.

After scoring four total goals in December and January, right wing Mariusz Czerkawski has eight goals and six assists in February.

The Islanders, the Eastern Conference leaders with 21 home wins, will be without captain Michael Peca for the second straight game Sunday. Peca sustained a cut on his left leg when he was hit by a shot early in Thursday's game and is day-to-day.

New York is 7-0-0-1 in its last eight meetings with Pittsburgh.

After ending an 18-game winless streak with a 4-3 victory at Phoenix on Wednesday, the Penguins continued their three-game trip with a 4-2 loss to San Jose on Friday.

Konstantin Koltsov and Milan Kraft scored for the Penguins, the first team to be eliminated from playoff contention. Pittsburgh is 3-22-0-1 in 2004.

"Officially, I think we were eliminated a long time ago," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "We're in a rebuilding process and everyone knew what was going to happened once the season started to go that way."

One of the few bright spots for the Penguins this season has been the play of rookie forward Ryan Malone, the team leader with 19 goals. Malone has eight goals and 11 points in his last 12 games.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 27): Penguins - 33 points, 5th place, 50 PB, Atlantic Division. Islanders - 71 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Malone, 19 goals; Dick Tarnstrom, 24 assists and 35 points; Kelly Buchberger, 109 PIM. Islanders - Czerkawski, 23 goals; Kvasha, 30 assists; Czerkawski and Trent Hunter, 44 points; Eric Cairns, 166 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 27): Penguins - Power play: 14.7 percent (43 for 292), 23rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 75.9 percent (221 for 291), 30th. Islanders - Power play: 17.1 percent (43 for 252), 9th. Penalty killing: 85.2 percent (241 for 283), 6th.

GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Andy Chiodo (1-3-0, 3.28 GAA); Jean-Sebastien Aubin (2-8-0, 3.25). Islanders - DiPietro (16-12-5, 3, 2.26); Garth Snow (14-13-4, 1, 2.75).

SEASON SERIES: Islanders, 3-0.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 18; Islanders, 4-3. At Uniondale, N.Y., Czerkawski scored two of New York's three power-play goals as the Islanders handed Chiodo a loss in his NHL debut.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 5-22-2-4 on the road; Islanders - 21-9-3-0 at home.

Associated Press
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