Less than two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins were staring at the likelihood of facing the NHL-best Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. One five-game winning streak later and the surging Penguins have aspirations of a top-three seed in the Metropolitan Division as they prepare to host the Capitals on Sunday.
Pittsburgh continues to bolster its playoff positioning at the expense of its division rivals, improving to 13-3-1 in its last 17 versus Metropolitan foes with a 4-1 victory at Philadelphia on Saturday. The Penguins overtook the New York Islanders for third place in the division and are two points behind the second-place New York Rangers. Washington is on cruise control for the Presidents’ Trophy and has won two in a row, including a 4-1 triumph over Nashville on Friday that represented its largest margin of victory since Jan. 19. The Capitals have won two of the three meetings this season, including a 4-1 victory at Pittsburgh on Dec. 14.
TV: 6 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA
LINE HISTORY: The Penguins opened as slight -120 favorites, while the total opened at 5.5 goals.
Capitals – C M. Latta (Out Sunday, illness), D J. Carson (Out Sunday, lower body).
Penguins – LW S. Wilson (Out Sunday, upper body), C E. Malkin (Out Sunday, upper body), RW B. Bennett (Out Sunday, upper body).
Captials – B. Holtby (43-8-4, 2.20 GAA, 0.923 save percentage).
Penguins – M. Fleury (31-16-6, 2.30 GAA, 0.922 save percentage).
WHAT SHARPS SAY:”Don’t look now but the Pens are playing solid hockey with three straight wins and four in their last five. Sidney Crosby has a 11-game point streak on the go, totaling 14 points in that stretch.” – Covers Expert Will Rogers.
ICE GIRL WAR:
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (51-14-5): Coach Barry Trotz admitted there’s no need to “reinvent the wheel” for his team, but he shuffled his lines last week and watched the second and third units each come up with a big game. “We’re very interchangeable parts here and our depth is one of our best attributes, and it’s going to carry us a long way in the playoffs,” forward Justin Williams said. “These are good barometer games for us, just to see where we are and ramp our game up for the fun times.” Evgeny Kuznetsov collected three assists Friday to extend his point streak to five games.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (39-24-8): A slow start to the season is a distant memory for captain Sidney Crosby, who set up a pair of goals Saturday to give him six tallies and 12 assists during his 11-game point streak. Nick Bonino, who inherited the unenviable task of stepping in for the injured Evgeni Malkin, collected a pair of assists against the Flyers after scoring a goal in the previous game versus Carolina. Phil Kessel, who is one assist shy of 300 for his career, has recorded a goal and an assist in three meetings versus Washington this season.
* Under is 3-0-1 in the last four meetings in Pittsburgh.
* Penguins are 5-0 in their last five games overall.
* Under is 15-5-2 in the last 22 meetings.
* Capitals are 5-2 in the last seven meetings.