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Penguins' recent hot streak yields little gain

In hockey, a lot can happen in 17 days.

That hasn't been the case for the Penguins, though.

When the Penguins opened their eight-game homestand March 14, they were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

A little more than two weeks and seven games later — despite going 5-1-1 and claiming 11 of a possible 14 points — the Penguins are still in sixth place.

The Penguins are playing well, but so is their competition.

"We're winning and we're still sitting in the same spot," defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "It says how tough this league is and how desperate everybody is."

The Penguins' desperation has shown since they embarked upon a five-game road trip in late February. They left Pittsburgh in 10th place and fighting for their playoff lives and returned in seventh, thanks to winning all five games on the trip. Since then, the competition has stiffened and the playoff race has

intensified.

"Everyone else seems to be winning also, so we can't really take the foot off the gas," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It's going to have to come down to the last day, most likely, so we're gonna have to follow suit with the other teams trying to get in."

The Penguins haven't risen in the standings since opening the homestand, and they haven't created more separation between themselves and the seventh-place Rangers; the Penguins continue to hold a one-point edge.

Things in the Eastern Conference are extremely tight:

n Fourth-place Philadelphia and eighth-place Montreal are separated by just six points.

n The Flyers, fifth-place Carolina and the Penguins are separated by one point apiece.

n Ninth-place Florida is a point behind Montreal, which is three points behind the Rangers.

n Of the fourth-through-eighth-place teams in the East, the Rangers are the only team that has more than a one-point cushion over the team right below them.

Boston, Washington and New Jersey — who will visit Mellon Arena on Wednesday night to close out the Penguins' homestand — have already clinched playoff spots.

Of the Penguins' six remaining games, four are against playoff contenders. The Penguins will face the Devils, Hurricanes and Canadiens — who currently occupy a playoff spot — and the ninth-place Panthers.

"I was looking at teams we're in contention with, looking at their schedules and our schedule," defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "It kind of seems like you don't even have an easy game.

"I guess I'm a little surprised we haven't gained a little bit more ground with how well we've played, but I guess that's just how desperate other teams are playing."

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