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Penguins notebook: Playoff clinching in reach against Sabres

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 12:21 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby returns to his bench after get a hat-trick with his third goal of the game in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 19, 2017. Pittsburgh won 4-0.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a stick save on the Panthers' Colton Sceviour in the third period Sunday, March 19, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

What goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the rest of the Penguins' most tenured members considered a cause for celebration in 2007, when they made the NHL playoffs after several years of misery, became little more than mundane after a decade-plus of postseason qualification.

“I guess it's just expected from ourselves and between us,” Fleury said. “We never go in thinking, ‘Are we going to make the playoffs?' It's just, ‘We're making the playoffs.' It's just a matter of time before we can clinch it.”

Tuesday's game at Buffalo represents the Penguins' first chance this season to clinch a berth in the 2017 playoffs. A win secures the team its 11th consecutive trip to the postseason, which ties the franchise record set from 1991-2001. Clinching March 21 in Game No. 72 would represent the earliest it has happened during the streak.

Of the past 10 clinchers, two stuck out to Fleury: The 4-3 win over Washington in 2007 that granted the Penguins their first playoff berth since 2001, and the 2-0 win at Buffalo in the 2015 regular-season finale.

“It was like 0-0 mid-second, so that one was a little nerve-wracking, I would say,” Fleury said.

The timing of clinches during the streak ranged from that finale to 2012's 5-1 win over Nashville in Game No. 73 of the season. Playoff-qualifying wins that preceded the Stanley Cup runs came within the final four games of the regular season.

Circumstances for the Penguins' current clinching opportunity — well ahead of the finale but with much still unsettled in the Eastern Conference standings — closer resemble those from 2012 and '11, when the Penguins went down to the wire with Philadelphia, Washington and with the New York Rangers the following year.

“Sometimes the seed you finish with is not always an indicator of who's going to win the Cup,” Fleury said.

Malkin a no-go in Buffalo

Evgeni Malkin will not travel with the Penguins to Buffalo for Tuesday's game, coach Mike Sullivan said following Monday's optional practice at PPG Paints Arena.

The plan is for Malkin, who suffered an upper-body injury March 13 when he blocked a shot against Calgary but only missed the Penguins' past two games, to stay in Pittsburgh and concentrate on his rehab.

Sullivan did not rule Malkin out for Thursday's game in Ottawa, however.

Rehabilitation also continues for defensemen Olli Maatta (hand) and Kris Letang (upper-body injury), who are “making progress” but have not experienced “significant changes” in their workout routines, Sullivan said.

Star burst

Sidney Crosby moved himself back in position to win the Rocket Richard and the Art Ross trophies this past week, and his performance earned him the NHL's Second Star of the Week honor.

Crosby finished with a hat trick in Sunday's win over Florida and had two goals in Friday's win over New Jersey.

Those efforts helped Crosby reclaim sole possession of first in the league's goal-scoring race. He sits three ahead of Boston's Brad Marchand with 40.

They also moved him into a tie with Edmonton's Connor McDavid for the points race. McDavid and Crosby had 80 entering Monday's games.

Marchand, who had five goals and nine points, garnered the No. 1 Star of the Week honor. The No. 3 star went to Calgary's Brian Elliott.

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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