PITTSBURGH (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – It’s a very tough, though not impossible task.
The Florida Panthers continue their uphill climb in pursuit of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.
Florida, which lost in 15 of its last 17 trips to Pittsburgh, trails Toronto by six points for the final postseason berth with 12 games to play after rallying for a 4-3 shootout victory over the Rangers in New York on Friday, and also has Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders to rise above.
“I’m real proud of them,” Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe told reporters. “There’s a lot of guys in that room that know what is at stake and they are not going to go down easy, I can tell you that right now. We proved that (Friday).”
Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, 45, plays his 1,700th game Sunday after recording two assists Friday and passing Gordie Howe for the most points after turning 40 years old with 269 – including 39 this season.
The Penguins, who are three points behind first-place Washington and one back of Columbus in the Metropolitan Division, could be without Evgeni Malkin (upper-body injury) after their second-leading scorer missed Friday’s 6-4 victory over New Jersey.
Pittsburgh won the first two of three meetings this season – 5-1 in Florida on Dec. 8 and 3-2 on Oct. 25 – with Sidney Crosby totaling a two goals and an assist, giving him 42 points (18 goals) in 34 games versus the Panthers.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, Sportsnet, TVAS, FSN Florida, ROOT (Pittsburgh)
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (31-28-11): James Reimer (14-13-5, 2.59 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) is expected to make his eighth straight start in goal with Roberto Luongo still recovering from a lower-body injury.
Alexander Barkov (19 goals, 46 points) scored Friday and has three goals and four assists in his last five games while Vincent Trocheck (team-high 49 points) recorded six assists in his last six contests but hasn’t scored in eight games.
Jonathan Marchessault (club-most 23 goals, 43 points) recorded four goals in his last five games while Jagr has two goals and two assists during that span.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (44-17-9): Pittsburgh continues to battle in the NHL’s toughest division without defensemen Kris Letang (upper-body injury), Trevor Daley (knee), Ron Hainsey (upper-body) and Olli Maatta (hand), who are all expected to be back in time for the playoffs.
Crosby scored twice Friday, joining Boston’s Brad Marchand for the league lead in goals with 37 while Nick Bonino has five of his 14 goals this season in the last six games.
Phil Kessel (22 goals) scored for the first time in 14 games Friday while Tom Kuhnhackl (four goals, 12 points) recorded two assists for his first multi-point contest of the season.
- Crosby has 640 career assists, tied with Jagr for second-most in Penguins history behind Mario Lemieux (1,033).
- Pittsburgh RW Patric Hornqvist (17 goals, 38 points) returned Friday after missing five games with a concussion.
- Florida has won four straight games when playing its third contest in four days.
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