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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Penguins can't be satisfied - not with qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and certainly not with entering as the Eastern Conference's sixth seed.

Sure, if push comes to shove, they'll take that No. 6 slot and their chances against third-seeded New Jersey and Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, the NHL all-time wins leader. After all, previous Penguins clubs have never lost a first-round playoff series to the Devils, and these Penguins whacked New Jersey, 6-1, only a few weeks ago.

Still, all things being equal, the Penguins would really like to open the playoffs at Mellon Arena, where they are 16-4-0 in 2009 after a 6-1 victory Thursday over the New York Islanders.

The win assured the Penguins (44-28-9, 97 points) of no worse than a sixth-place finish in the East.

They are tied with Philadelphia (43-26-11, 97 points) and Carolina (45-29-7, 97 points) for fourth place. The Flyers have two remaining games: Saturday afternoon at the Islanders and Sunday night against the New York Rangers. The Hurricanes play Saturday afternoon at New Jersey.

The Penguins will know Saturday night before they play at Montreal if they can move ahead of Carolina. That will happen with a win or non-regulation loss against Montreal and a regulation loss by Carolina, or a win over the Canadiens a non-regulation loss by the Hurricanes.

A win by the Hurricanes over New Jersey would prevent the Penguins from passing them because a team's wins are the first NHL tiebreaker.

The Flyers are in control of home ice. They can secure the No. 4 seed without help by earning three points in their final two games.

Tiebreakers (wins or points earned in the season series) will allow the Penguins to pass Philadelphia if the teams finish tied in total points.

In terms of individual points, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin moved to a comfortable lead - though not insurmountable - on rival Russian and Washington Capitals left wing Alexander Ovechkin for the Art Ross Trophy.

With two assists against the Islanders, Malkin pushed his league-leading point total to 112. Ovechkin did not record a point last night in the Capitals' win over Tampa Bay and remains second in overall scoring with 108 points.

The Capitals play Saturday night at Florida.

Malkin's assists were on goals by defenseman Philippe Boucher (at 14:15 of the first period, in his first game since Jan. 31); and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, at 12:36 of the third period.

In between those tallies, wingers Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Bill Guerin scored their respective 12th, 13th and 21st goals. Right wing Tyler Kennedy scored his 15th goal late in the third to cap the Penguins' scoring.

Goalie Mathieu Garon, making only his third start since he was acquired Jan. 17 from Edmonton, made 28 saves.

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