Jets-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

While the Pittsburgh Penguins try to track down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Winnipeg Jets are simply hoping to qualify for the postseason.

If both teams succeed, Tuesday night's matchup could be a first-round playoff preview.

The Jets begin a crucial three-game road trip with a monumental challenge as they try to snap the franchise's 10-game losing streak in Pittsburgh amid what will be a raucous atmosphere for Sidney Crosby's first home game in three months.

The Penguins' 11-game winning streak is over after they blew a two-goal lead in the third period and lost 3-2 in the final second of overtime Sunday in Philadelphia, but rivals may worry Pittsburgh's best hockey lies ahead thanks to the health of Crosby and star defenseman Kris Letang.

Although he didn't have any points against the Flyers, Crosby totaled five assists in his first two games back from concussion symptoms - wins over the New York Rangers and New Jersey last week.

The superstar center has averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time since his return.

"I just want to make sure that I am getting better and feeling better each game," Crosby said. "I think as a group we played really well here in the last few. Most of the time we've done some really good things. So, we just want to keep building off that."

The Penguins also want to catch the East-leading Rangers, whom they trail by three points.

Pittsburgh, though, has a game in hand and seven of its final 11 contests at home, where Crosby hasn't played since a Dec. 5 loss to Boston.

The Jets (34-30-8) may wish they didn't have to play any games in Pittsburgh. The Penguins (44-21-6) have averaged 4.5 goals while winning 10 in a row at home against the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise, which has won four times in 23 all-time visits.

Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin had five points to power the Penguins' 8-5 win over the visiting Jets on Feb. 11. Ondrej Pavelec yielded all eight goals to fall to 0-5-0 with a 5.42 goals-against average in Pittsburgh.

Making his eighth straight start, Pavelec gave up a pair of untimely tallies Sunday against Carolina. The Jets led entering the final period after Antti Miettinen's first two goals of the season, but the Hurricanes answered with a pair on 19 third-period shots for a 4-3 win.

"This one will stick in there for a long time," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "To me, the bottom line with this game is that if we don't make the playoffs, we don't deserve to make the playoffs. That's the bottom line. We don't deserve it.

"You can go down the road record (11-19-4) all you want, you can go down all the other areas you want, but if we don't make it, it's because we don't deserve to make it."

The Jets are still 8-4-2 in their last 14 games, getting 21 points from Blake Wheeler and 19 from Evander Kane in that stretch, but they slipped four points behind eighth-place Washington in the East after the Capitals won Monday at Detroit.

Winnipeg, which has a game in hand on both Washington and ninth-place Buffalo, visits the Capitals on Friday.

"We're going to play a team that's fighting for their playoff lives," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told his team's official website. "They're talking about playoff hockey. ... That's what the next game is for us. We know we're playing a team that could very well possibly be the eighth seed and that we could be seeing them again in the playoffs as well."

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