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NHL on NBC: Streaking Penguins march to Philadelphia

Mar 17, 2012, 10:12 PM EDT

Claude Giroux Getty Images

All season the Pittsburgh Penguins have shown they can excel even without their superstar captain, Sidney Crosby. They were on a nine-game winning streak before Crosby’s return – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful to have him back. Crosby immediately made his mark with two assists, including one that was awarded to him after the fact, in his return and another three assists in Saturday’s game. His performance has reinforced the notion that, when they’re at full strength, the Penguins should be regarded as a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Odds are that the Philadelphia Flyers would like to prove that they’re more than capable of beating the Penguins, regardless of Crosby’s status. They’ll get the chance to do just that on Sunday (12:30 pm ET, NBC). Philadelphia currently has a 2-1 series lead, but Crosby didn’t play in any of those contests. To make matters more difficult for the Flyers, they’ll have to compete against them without a couple of key players, including Chris Pronger, who is out for the rest of the season with a concussion. Fortunately for Philadelphia, like the Penguins, they have demonstrated that they can find ways to win even under less than ideal circumstances.

This game will be a matchup between two of the NHL’s league leaders in points, Evgeni Malkin and Claude Giroux, plus an extended cast of skilled forwards and offensive defensemen. That being said, depending on the goaltending matchup, this might not be a high-scoring game. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury is on a nine-game winning streak and Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov has been even hotter lately. Although Bryzgalov suffered his first loss since Feb. 28 on Saturday, he’s less than a week removed from establishing a new franchise record for consecutive shutout minutes.

This is the first of three meetings between the Flyers and Penguins in the final three weeks of the season. With the two teams currently occupying the fourth and fifth seeds in the Eastern Conference, it’s entirely possible that these upcoming contests will serve as the setup for a first round series between the bitter rivals.

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