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Big NHL Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers (3/18/12)

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.

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.

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.

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 minu -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.

STARTING GOALIES:

Pittsburgh Penguins – Marc-Andre Fleury

Philadelphia Flyers – Ilya Bryzgalov

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