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Penguins-Panthers Preview

Saturday, 04.13.2013 / 9:45 AM

PENGUINS (31-10-0) at PANTHERS (13-21-6)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Florida 5-5-0

Season series: This is the rubber match of the three-game season series between the first-place team in the Eastern Conference (Pittsburgh) and the last-place team (Florida). The Penguins beat the Panthers in Pittsburgh on Feb. 22, but the Panthers gave it right back to the Penguins four days later in Florida.

Big story: The Penguins are trying to move closer to clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They have a five-point lead over the Montreal Canadiens, but the Habs have a game in hand.

Team Scope:

Penguins: The Penguins earned a day off in Florida on Friday after winning their third straight game Thursday night despite not having Sidney Crosby, James Neal or Paul Martin in the lineup. Pascal Dupuis scored his 20th goal of the season and Chris Kunitz scored his 21st in a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Times Forum.

Jussi Jokinen also scored twice and had an assist, giving him three goals and two assists in three games with the Penguins since he was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on April 3.

"Jussi is a gritty player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said following the game Thursday. "He was around the cage a couple of times [Thursday night] and came away with two goals."

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to the lineup Thursday after missing six straight games with a broken toe. He played more than 23 minutes and had an assist on Kunitz's goal.

"You could see how very good he was all over the ice," Bylsma said of Letang. "It made a difference. The power play benefitted from having him back there as well. It is lights out. His ability to move across the line and distribute the puck was a really big factor.

Panthers: The Panthers have eight games left in what has been a dismal season.

They are coming off a 7-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, but overall the Panthers are 4-2 in their past six games. They are still last in the Eastern Conference with 32 points, two fewer than the fading Carolina Hurricanes.

Florida allowed Winnipeg to score three unanswered goals in a matter of 1:55 in the second period Thursday.

"Lately we've played really good hockey," forward Tomas Fleischmann said after the game Thursday. "[This loss] just kicks us back. I don't know. We have to figure it out in the dressing room and stop this bad effort in the second. We've got to learn from it and make sure we don't do it in our next game Saturday."

Who's hot: For the Penguins, Dupuis has back-to-back three-point games and eight points over the past four games; Evgeni Malkin has scored in each of the past two games; Jarome Iginla has three assists over the past two games; and Jokinen has five points in his first three games as a Penguin. … For the Panthers, Fleischmann is riding a seven-game point-scoring streak with three goals and five assists over the span.

Injury report: Pittsburgh is missing Crosby (jaw), Neal (concussion) and Martin (hand). … Florida is missing Jose Theodore (groin), Ed Jovanovski (hip), Mike Weaver (lower body), Eric Selleck (concussion), Kris Versteeg (knee), Stephen Weiss (wrist) and Sean Bergenheim (groin).

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