Philadelphia (45-20-10) at Pittsburgh (45-23-8)

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO, STATS Writer Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:00 pm EDT Tue Mar 29, 2011

Recent struggles have nearly erased the Philadelphia Flyers’ leads in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are more than willing to take both from the sputtering division rivals, but may have to settle for gaining just a share right now.

In a game that could further tighten the conference and division races, the Penguins look to pull even with the Flyers atop both standings on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

Philadelphia (45-20-10) leads the East by two points on Southeast-leading Washington and Pittsburgh (45-23-8), which is also second in the Atlantic and has won four straight.

The Flyers have a game in hand on both clubs, but could find themselves in a three-way tie for first with a regulation loss to the Penguins coupled with Washington beating Carolina.

Coach Peter Laviolette, however, is welcoming a visit to Pittsburgh as a major test for his club ahead of the playoffs.

“It’s a good thing, going to Pittsburgh and playing the Penguins. They’re hot right now and lets go in there and see how we do,” he told the team’s official website.

Philadelphia’s advantages in the races have nearly vanished during a 2-1-3 run that includes a 2-1 shootout loss to the Penguins at home Thursday. That sluggish stretch continued with Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Boston.

“If you want to talk about what you need to do … You need to lay with a lot of intensity,” Laviolette said. “When the playoffs roll around, there should be and will be desperation in our game because now you’re talking about either winning four or losing four and then you become desperate.”

The Penguins have increased the pressure on Philadelphia by winning eight of 10, winning each game during their current streak via shootout.

Pittsburgh beat Florida 2-1 on Sunday as Alex Kovalev(notes) and James Neal(notes) netted the only goals in the shootout.

“It would definitely be nice to win it in regulation and not go into overtime every game, but two points is two points,” Kovalev said. “We set the goal to catch Philadelphia and get first in the conference and that is what we are doing right now.”

Marc-Andre Fleury(notes), who should be back in net, is having a major impact during Pittsburgh’s surge. He’s won six of his last eight starts with a 1.68 goals-against average and one shutout, and he’s compiled a 0.62 GAA while getting beat on just one of nine shootout chances in winning his last three contests.

“He’s our MVP,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “and I think he deserves to be mentioned as league MVP with his play this year.”

Fleury made 19 saves through overtime before stopping three shootout chances against the Flyers last week, ending a personal three-game slide in the series that included a 3.06 GAA.

Pittsburgh has dropped three of five season meetings with Philadelphia, including both at home.

Kris Letang(notes), the Penguins’ leading scorer among defensemen with 48 points, has scored at least one point in all five games in 2010-11, totaling one goal and six assists.

Claude Giroux(notes) leads the Flyers with 70 points, and he’s netted four goals in five games against the Penguins this season. Jeff Carter(notes) has eight goals and two assists over 17 visits to Pittsburgh.

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Tuesday, Mar 29