NHL

Flyers-Penguins Preview

A second-half resurgence has the Pittsburgh Penguins back in the playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers may be joining them with an outstanding run of their own.

The Keystone State rivals also share the distinction of the Eastern Conference's two hottest teams when they face off Sunday night for the first of two late-season matchups.

Both clubs were on the outside of the playoff picture in mid-January, but each has been among the NHL's best since the All-Star break. The Flyers have turned around a season destined for disappointment by going 13-3-2 since Feb. 25, a mark surpassed only by the Penguins' 15-4-0 record over that span.

Pittsburgh (45-25-8) enters its final home game having won five straight and 11 of 12 and with a 10th consecutive postseason berth sewn up following Saturday's 5-0 rout of the New York Islanders. The Penguins have outscored opponents 24-10 in the last five, with their offense continuing to produce despite Evgeni Malkin having missed 11 straight with an upper-body injury.

''I don't know if anyone expected us to put as many (wins) together as we have down the stretch,'' said Sidney Crosby. ''We've worked hard. We've earned it.''

Crosby has been the most responsible for Pittsburgh's surge, amassing a league-high 25 points over 18 games since Feb. 29. The captain extended his current point streak to five by notching his 600th career assist on Saturday.

Having survived Malkin's departure from the lineup, the Penguins now must withstand a potential extended absence from Marc Andre-Fleury after the goaltender was diagnosed with a concussion on Friday. Matt Murray filled in ably against New York, recording 24 saves for his first NHL shutout.

Philadelphia (39-25-13) has no worries at the position with Steve Mason playing his best hockey of the season during the stretch run. He stopped 33 shots in Saturday's 3-2 victory over Ottawa to improve to 9-2-2 with a 1.89 goals-against average over his last 13 starts.

"A lot of what I'm doing has to do with the guys in front," he said. "I think overall we're playing real solid hockey and in turn makes my job a lot easier. We're scoring goals at probably our best clip of the year too, so that also helps."

The Flyers scored three power-play goals - two from Wayne Simmonds - in winning their third straight and maintaining a hold on the East's final wild-card spot. They're one point above Boston with a game in hand on the Bruins and two behind the Islanders for the first wild card with five remaining.

''We're trying to solidify our spot,'' Simmonds said. ''If we catch some teams on the way, then that's great. We just want to make sure that we're getting in. That's our goal.''

Mason has yielded only 12 goals over a 5-1-1 stretch but hasn't been as sharp in two losses to the Penguins this season, one a 41-save effort in a 4-3 defeat Jan. 21 in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins, who snapped an eight-game series losing streak with that result, outshot the Flyers 35-17 in a 4-1 victory in Philadelphia on March 19.

Phil Kessel scored twice in the first matchup and had a power-play goal against New York, giving him five with five assists over his last five.

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