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Penguins notebook: Western teams provide late-season challenge

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Monday, March 24, 2014, 9:12 p.m.

The Penguins historically showcase terrific numbers against the Western Conference under coach Dan Bylsma.

Still, facing the NHL's heavyweights — and most of the them play in the West — is no easy task.

The Penguins, who have fallen to Chicago, San Jose and St. Louis in the past three weeks, host Phoenix on Tuesday. Later in the week, they host Los Angeles and Chicago.

“It doesn't get any easier,” Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. “There's no doubt that a lot of these Western teams play a heavier game. You've got to be at your best against them.”

The Blues' only goal against the Penguins saw a shot from the point deflect off center David Backes. This isn't coincidental.

“That's the thing against those teams,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “They're all so big. They just try to get all the big bodies in front of you and fire pucks at the net. I thought we played well as a team against St. Louis. It's not easy against those teams.”

• The Penguins have long opposed the tendency of NHL officials to overlook obstruction late in the regular season and playoffs. While playoff opportunities have been plentiful in the past few games for the Penguins, Bylsma acknowledged he isn't pleased with how games are being officiated. “For players and for coaches, too, you want consistency,” he said. “And I'm not sure I can say that's been the case with how the games have been called.”

• Bylsma said no medical updates are expected pertaining to defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin in the next seven days. Letang (stroke) has been skating with the Penguins for more than a week and participated in practice Monday. Martin (broken hand) is expected back shortly before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 16.

• The Penguins will leave forward Beau Bennett in the American Hockey League for at least one more game. Bennett, on a rehab stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, again will n play for the Penguins' AHL affiliate on Wednesday. He played in two games over the weekend, recording an assist. Bylsma said Bennett's timing was understandably rusty but he was physically strong in the games.

• The Penguins can clinch a playoff spot Tuesday with a win over Phoenix. They also can clinch a spot by earning one point against Phoenix, along with a Columbus regulation loss or a loss of any kind by Washington.

— Josh Yohe

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