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Pens host 'Canes with chance to clinch division title
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to win back-to-back division titles for the first time in 20 years on Tuesday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
With 101 points, the Penguins have already clinched their eighth straight trip to the postseason and have a 13-point lead over the second-place New York Rangers in the brand-new Metropolitan Division.
With just six games left to the Penguins' seven, the Rangers are already mathematically eliminated from catching Pittsburgh, but the third-place Philadelphia Flyers have a game in hand over the Pens and are 15 points back of the top spot.
Pittsburgh, though, can clinch the division with a victory over Carolina or a regulation loss by Philadelphia tonight versus the St. Louis Blues. The Penguins can also lock up the division crown with a point and a loss by Philadelphia in overtime or a shootout.
The Penguins have won consecutive division titles just once before in franchise history, doing so in 1992-93 and '93-94. The won the Atlantic Division last year during the strike-shortened campaign before shifting to the Metropolitan Division following realignment.
The Pens have followed up a three-game losing streak with back-to-back wins, besting the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 on Sunday. That pushed Pittsburgh past the 100-point mark for the sixth time in the past eight seasons, including last year's shortened campaign when the Pens compiled 72 points in 48 games.
Coincidentally, the lone time that the Penguins did not reach the 100-point mark was their Stanley Cup-winning 2008-09 season, when they finished with 99 points.
Sidney Crosby continued his MVP season with two goals in Sunday's win. He leads the NHL with 63 assists and 99 points and is tied for fourth in the league with 36 goals.
James Neal and Lee Stempniak also scored and Marc-Andre Fleury came up with 25 saves.
"(The Blackhawks) put a lot of pressure on us and I thought we were able to handle it well," said Crosby. "They started to take a few more risks later on and we were able to capitalize."
The Penguins will try to sweep their four-game season series with the Hurricanes and have won five straight and eight of the previous nine meetings overall.
Carolina has lost six straight in Pittsburgh, where it has not won since March 20, 2010.
The Hurricanes are seven points back of a wild card spot with seven games to play, having lost three of four and six of their last nine games.
Carolina was bested 2-1 in a shootout by the Ottawa Senators last night, with Ales Hemsky scoring the lone goal of the tiebreaker.
Jeff Skinner scored in his fourth straight game and Cam Ward made 28 saves in defeat. The lone goal Ward allowed in regulation came on a deflection that was reviewed to see if Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad had kicked the puck in just 1:41 into the game.
"As much as you like to take goals back, you can't," said Ward. "I thought it probably could have gone either way on the video replay, but from what I understand he didn't have a kicking motion. You have to look at it as a lucky break on their side."
Skinner scored just over two minutes later to tie the game, potting his 30th tally of the season. That is just one shy of the career-high 31 goals he scored as a rookie in 2010-11.
Carolina lost a pair of forwards to injury last night, with Jiri Tlusty and Andrei Loktionov suffering upper-body ailments.
04/01 11:07:17 ET
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