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FIVE THINGS TO KNOW
PENGUINS (44-21-5--93pts) at FLYERS (41-22-8--90pts)
The Penguins enter today's game on a season-high 11-game winning streak… During that streak they have outscored their opponent 43-17 and limited their opponent to two goals or less in their last seven games… The Flyers on the other hand come into today's game with a 7-1-1 record in their last nine games, which has included a five-game winning streak and limiting their opponent to two goals or less in seven of their last eight games.
2. MUCH AT STAKE
The Penguins (2nd place) and Flyers (3rd place) come into today's game separated by just three points in the Atlantic Division and are in a fight for the top seed in the Eastern Conference… With a win today, the Flyers could come within a point of the Penguins and three points of the Rangers for the No. 1 overall seed in the East.
3. THE CROSBY EFFECT
Sidney Crosby will play his first game in Philadelphia since Dec. 14, 2010… Since returning from his most recent injury, Crosby has posted four points, all assists, in two games, while recording a total of 17 points (2G-15A) in 10 games this season.
4. Player to watch PENGUINS: Evgeni Malkin
Malkin leads all players in the NHL with 87 points through 63 games… He currently has four points (1G-3A) in his last two games and has recorded at least a point in 10 of his last 12 games, posting nine goals and 16 points in that span.
5. Player to watch FLYERS: Claude Giroux
Giroux will be battling and trying to catch the NHL's leading scorer today, Evgeni Malkin… Giroux was held scoreless in yesterday's Flyers-Bruins game, but has NOT been held scoreless in two consecutive games since Jan. 8-10, a span of 31 games… Giroux leads the Flyers and ranks third in the NHL scoring race with 82 points.
Last 10: Pittsburgh 10-0-0; Philadelphia 7-2-1
Season Series: This is the fourth of six season meetings between the cross-state rivals, and the third and final at Wells Fargo Center. Pittsburgh's 6-4 win in the arena on Feb. 18 gave the Pens a 2-1 edge in the season series.
Big Story: Two teams battling for the fourth playoff seed and, possibly, a chance to unseat the New York Rangers atop the Atlantic Division will face off on Sunday afternoon. Pittsburgh is within a game of the Rangers and currently in fourth, while the Flyers have used a similar run of form to pull within five points of New York.
Penguins: Nobody is playing hotter hockey than Pittsburgh. With 11 straight wins, the Pens have turned from playoff competitor to Stanley Cup favorite in the span of a month. On Thursday, the NHL's best team reinstated the NHL's best player. Sidney Crosby returned from an extended absence due to post-concussion symptoms and a neck injury to face the Rangers, a game that Pittsburgh controlled throughout and ended up winning, 5-2. The Pens continued to dismantle their Eastern competition on Saturday, when they routed sixth-place New Jersey, also by a 5-2 score. While he has yet to find the net himself, Crosby is making his presence felt in the assist column. No. 87 has five assists in two games.
"If you come into a situation where everyone is playing well and you just have to fill your role, do your job, it's always more comfortable," Crosby said. "It's a good feeling and that's really what you want at the end of the day."
Flyers: In the midst of the Crosby-mania that’s gripped the NHL in recent weeks, another "humangous" story was unfolding across the state. Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov exhibited a consistency and resolve he has lacked all season, winning seven straight starts and recording four shutouts over that period. Heading into Saturday's tilt against Boston, Bryz had conceded seven goals in seven games, but he allowed two in the first period against the slumping Bruins. The goalie put the clamps on following that, stopping 31 shots in all as the Flyers pushed Boston to a shootout. In the extra frames, all three Boston shooters scored to give them the win.
"They smoked us that first half of the game," said forward Scott Hartnell, "but we decided to play, we decided to keep it simple, get it behind them, and towards the end of that game we tired them out and we had a lot of chances even to win in regulation. They had some breaks ... a big point for us, though."
Who's Hot: Matt Cooke has been a direct beneficiary of Crosby's return. Playing on a line with Crosby and Tyler Kennedy, Cooke snapped a seven-game goalless run with 4 goals in two games.
Injury Report: Pittsburgh's Dustin Jeffrey (illness) missed Saturday's game against New Jersey, while Brent Johnson (lower body) is out indefinitely. … The Flyers' long injury list makes their recent surge all the more impressive. That list grew Saturday, when Andreas Lilja (throat) and Maxime Talbot (upper body) left Saturday's game. Pavel Kubina (upper body) missed the game, and Andrej Meszaros (lower body), James van Riemsdyk (left-foot surgery) and Tom Sestito (groin surgery) will all miss significant time.
Stat Pack: Expect goals on top of goals on Sunday at Wells Fargo – even if Bryzgalov gets the start in net for Philadelphia. The Penguins and Flyers are 1-2 in goals-per-game. Pittsburgh averages 3.17 goals every contest, and have scored five goals in each of its last three games.
Puck Drop: Ahead of Sunday's encounter, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said the winning streak paled in comparison to the value of a win over a divisional foe like Philadelphia.
"One of our goals is winning the division, and as we keep winning here it's a possibility," he said. "We want to keep focusing on that. It's great to win 11 in a row, but now we're going into Philly and Philly is right on our heels as well. They're playing great hockey and it's a big rivalry. We have to put 11 behind us and look right ahead to Philly."
The Pittsburgh Penguins were making a spirited run at first place in the Eastern Conference without Sidney Crosby.
Now, they may gain a share of that lead with his help, but the Philadelphia Flyers would like to make it a three-team race.
Crosby looks to continue his torrid scoring pace as the Penguins try to match their second-longest winning streak in franchise history Sunday in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh (44-21-5) is on an astounding 23-4-1 run, including an 11-game winning streak following Saturday's 5-2 victory at New Jersey. All but two of those games came with Crosby out due to a concussion that's lingered since January 2011, limiting him to 10 games this season.
Evgeni Malkin softened the blow of Crosby's extended absence. A Hart Trophy candidate, Malkin has 40 goals and 87 points in 63 games, getting eight goals and eight assists during the winning streak.
"We're a team and you're happy to see your teammates do well," Crosby said. "We've played good hockey. When I wasn't in for the previous nine games (of the winning streak) I was just as happy to see guys do well. There is a good feeling when you are rewarded for your efforts and guys have stuck to that."
Crosby's effort is also paying dividends, as he's totaled five assists in the past two games, including three against the Devils. He has 17 points in his 10 games.
"When you first come back, you are probably thinking a lot more than you should," Crosby said. "The more you react and let the game come to you, the better."
With Crosby healthy and not missing a beat offensively, the red-hot Penguins can pull even with the idle New York Rangers for first place in the East with a 12th straight victory.
They last won that many in a row Nov. 17-Dec. 11, 2010 - the second-longest winning streak in franchise history. They had an NHL-record 17-game run March 9-April 10, 1993, during which current Flyers wing Jaromir Jagr had 24 points.
While Pittsburgh is poised to go atop the conference, the club is also trying to fend off the Flyers.
Philadelphia (41-22-8) trails the Penguins by three points, and is 7-1-1 in March. The Flyers have also taken two of three in the season series, with three meetings remaining - including the season finale April 7 in Pittsburgh.
Philadelphia erased a two-goal deficit Saturday before falling 3-2 in a shootout at Boston.
"We came back. That's a good point," Jagr said. "Too bad we couldn't get the other one."
Jagr, a member of the Penguins from 1990-2001, has three goals in the last two meetings with his former club. He netted a pair in the most recent matchup Feb. 18, but Philadelphia lost 6-4, falling to 2-6-2 in its last 10 at home in the series.
Scott Hartnell was a minus-3 without a point in that meeting. The All-Star had three goals and three assists in his previous five games against Pittsburgh.
Ilya Bryzgalov figures to be back in net after making 31 saves through overtime versus the Bruins before giving up goals on all three shootout attempts. He was pulled during the second period against the Penguins last month after allowing three goals - two short-handed - on 13 shots.
He's 9-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average and four shutouts since. In six career meetings with Pittsburgh, Bryzgalov is 3-1-1 with a 2.12 GAA and one shutout.
Crosby and Malkin will likely keep him busy. Crosby has 77 points in 47 career meetings with the Flyers including playoffs, while Malkin has 13 goals and 18 assists in 23 road matchups.
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