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Sid seeks No. 50 as Penguins close on Long Island

by John Kreiser

PENGUINS (46-28-7) at ISLANDERS (34-37-10)

Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 4-4-2; New York 5-5-0

Season series --
It's the sixth and final meeting of the Atlantic Division rivals, with the Penguins having won four of the first five -- including a 7-3 victory at Pittsburgh three days ago. The Isles are 1-0-1 at the Nassau Coliseum, where the Penguins haven't visited since losing 3-2 on the day after Thanksgiving.

Big story -- Saturday's 1-0 loss at Atlanta, combined with New Jersey's 7-1 wipeout of the Islanders, eliminated the Penguins from the race for first place in the Atlantic Division. The only player on either team with any significant incentive (other than pride, of course), is Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who's one goal away from reaching 50 for the first time. He trails Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos by one goal in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy,

Team Scope:

Penguins --
Coach Dan Bylsma may give several of his regulars the evening off on Long Island, rather than subjecting them to the second half of a tough back-to-back that caps a stretch of three games in four days. But the Penguins don't want to get too sloppy -- not with three consecutive road losses and a playoff series against Ottawa looming.

"It's disappointing," Crosby said. "We hoped to win and get second place. We'll have to play a good game (Sunday) and start focusing on the playoffs."

Islanders -- New York has improved by 17 points from its 2008-09 total of 61, but the Isles aren't exactly closing well. They've surrendered seven goals in each of their last two games -- blowout road losses to the Penguins and Devils (7-1 on Saturday).

Who's hot -- Evgeni Malkin has six goals against the Islanders this season, and 12 goals and 8 assists during a 12-game point streak in the series. … Matt Moulson scored New York's lone goal on Saturday and leads the Isles with 29 -- not bad for a guy signed as a minor-league free agent last summer.

Injury report -- One Penguin who might get the night off is Matt Cooke, who was flattened by Atlanta's Evander Kane in a second-period fight on Saturday. Forward Chris Kunitz (upper body) sat out another game. Defenseman Brooks Orpik left in the third period with a cut but says he should be able to play. … The Islanders, battered by injuries all season, have lost three forwards this week: Josh Bailey (broken bones in face), Blake Comeau (broken foot) and Sean Bergenheim, who left Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and won't play.

Stat pack -- John Tavares, the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft last June, is closing his season on a positive note. His assist on Saturday gave him 51 points (22 goals) for the season, the most on the Isles. He has a goal and 7 assists in New York's last seven games. The 51 points might not sound like a lot -- but Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos had just 46 (23 goals) as a rookie a year ago and has gone on to become a 50-goal scorer in his second NHL season.

Puck drop --
How much does Crosby want goal No. 50? He originally had it on Thursday, but gave it back after the game, saying that his shot hit teammate Bill Guerin on the way into the net. It's not impossible that Bylsma could give Crosby or Malkin (who's missed time with a foot injury and illness) the evening off. Isles coach Scott Gordon will want to see a better effort from his team than what he's had to watch while seeing his team get smoked in back-to-back games.

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