Pittsburgh (30-18-1) at Vancouver (27-18-2)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Vancouver, BC
Temp: 52° F
  • Game info: 10:00 pm EST Sat Jan 16, 2010
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The next time Sidney Crosby(notes) steps on the ice at GM Place, he’ll be considered largely responsible for shouldering the tremendous Olympic expectations of a hockey-crazed nation.

For now, he’s just trying to help the Pittsburgh Penguins close their road trip with a win.

Opening the Vancouver Games is just a month away for Crosby and his Canadian teammates, but the Penguins captain can help his NHL team complete a three-game sweep through Western Canada on Saturday night against the suddenly struggling Canucks.

After a Canadian team minus Crosby - then a rookie - finished a disappointing seventh in the 2006 Turin Olympics, the country’s gold-medal hopes will be very high when Crosby serves as an alternate captain for the 2010 Vancouver Games, which Canada kicks off Feb. 16 at GM Place against Norway.

“That’s a once in a lifetime opportunity with it being in Canada,” said Crosby, who leads the Eastern Conference with 30 goals. “(But) I’m just trying to worry about things (in Pittsburgh). When it’s time, it’s time.”

The Penguins (30-18-1) had lost six of seven before departing on their current five-game road trip, and some time away from Mellon Arena seems to be serving them - and their struggling power play - well.

Pittsburgh’s three wins in the trip’s first four games have come in Canada, and they’ve all featured a power-play goal. A night after Bill Guerin’s(notes) man-advantage tally was the eventual winner in a 3-1 victory in Calgary, Jordan Staal(notes) set up three scores in the third period Thursday at Edmonton to help turn a two-goal deficit into a 3-2 win.

The Penguins’ power-play success (14.8 percent) is second-worst in the league, but when they score with the man advantage, they’re 20-2-0.

“I think getting on the road has hopefully simplified some things for us,” Crosby said. “A lot of times you get on a trip like this and it helps you regroup. Hopefully this is something we can build off of.”

That win may have come with a price, though. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) - who along with Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo(notes) is set to back up New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur(notes) on Team Canada - fractured his left ring finger in Edmonton and is day to day.

With backup Brent Johnson(notes) already hurt, John Curry(notes) will likely make his third NHL start Saturday.

Luongo, 6-3-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average at home since Dec. 14, has warned his club to ignore the hype surrounding a game with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“As a team obviously we’re worried about winning the game and not about all the other stuff that comes along with it,” Luongo said.

The Canucks (27-18-2) could use a boost from their power-play unit - tops in the league at home (26.0 percent) - as they look to avoid their first four-game losing streak since an 0-5-3 skid from Jan. 9-31, 2009.

They’ve given up the first goal in each of their last three losses. Minnesota scored twice in the game’s first 3:32 on Wednesday in a 5-2 victory over Vancouver.

One recent bright spot for the Canucks has been Alex Burrows(notes), who’s scored 10 goals in his last six games alongside NHL points leader Henrik Sedin(notes).

Then again, Burrows also has been a source of controversy lately, and he was fined $2,500 for saying referee Stephane Auger issued retaliatory calls against him Monday night in a loss to Nashville.

Vancouver has won six of seven against Pittsburgh, the lone loss coming 2-1 in a shootout Dec. 8, 2007 - shortly after Luongo denied Crosby on an overtime penalty shot.

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Saturday, Jan 16