By Nicolino DiBenedetto
NY Islanders (26-44-9) at Pittsburgh (43-28-9), 7:30 p.m. EDT
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A coaching change in February appears to be
just what the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to return to the
After securing that postseason berth, the Penguins look to
improve their seeding Thursday night when they host a lowly New
York Islanders team coming off the most lopsided loss in
The Penguins (43-28-9) fired coach Michel Therrien on Feb. 15,
only seven months after he guided them to the Stanley Cup
finals. They replaced him with Dan Bylsma on an interim basis,
and the team has responded by going 16-3-4.
Pittsburgh continued its strong run Tuesday, clinching a playoff
spot with a 6-4 win at Tampa Bay.
"I think we're all allowed to smile tonight," Bylsma said after
the victory, which secured the Pens' third consecutive trip to
The Penguins, who end their regular season at Montreal on
Saturday, still have a chance to gain home-ice advantage in the
first round of the playoffs with two games left.
They're sixth in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the
fourth-place tie between Philadelphia and Carolina. The Flyers,
though, have a game in hand on both clubs.
If Pittsburgh is going to close the gap, Sidney Crosby and
Evgeni Malkin will likely play a major part.
Crosby scored two goals assisted by Malkin in a 1:04 span of the
second period Tuesday after the duo was held without a point in
the previous two games - both losses.
Malkin leads the NHL with a career-high 110 points, while Crosby
is third with 101. This is the first time two Penguins have
reached the 100-point mark in a season since Mario Lemieux
(161), Jaromir Jagr (149) and Ron Francis (119) did it in the
1995-96 season. That team also had Petr Nedved at 99 points,
while the closest Penguin to Crosby and Malkin this season is
Jordan Staal at 47.
Crosby has 11 goals and 31 assists in 31 games against the
Islanders (26-44-9) while Malkin has 25 points in 21 meetings,
including five goals and four assists in the teams' five
matchups this season.
Pittsburgh has won four of those games and is 9-2-1 in the last
12 meetings. The Penguins beat the Islanders 1-0 on Feb. 25 in
the most recent matchup when Petr Sykora scored with 2:28 to
The Islanders, losers of seven of nine (2-6-1), will clinch the
worst record in the NHL for the first time in eight years with a
loss to the Penguins.
They certainly resembled that distinction Tuesday when they lost
9-0 at Carolina for the worst beating in club history.
"It was just one of those nights when it seemed nothing was
going in the right direction," Islanders coach Scott Gordon
One of the few bright spots for the Islanders has been the play
of Mark Streit. The defenseman was held without a point Tuesday,
but has a career-high 16 goals and a team-leading 55 points.
He's totaled four goals and five assists in the last nine games.
Streit, though, didn't get a point in the last two games against