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Penguins-Jets Preview

The Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping a strong finish to last month would carry over into this one. Instead, they opened April with a lopsided defeat at home.

The Penguins look to regroup during a three-game road trip and will attempt to clinch the Metropolitan Division title again Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets.

Pittsburgh (48-23-5) claimed its final two games in March against teams currently in playoff position, Chicago and Columbus, after going 2-5-1 in its previous eight. The Penguins couldn't keep that win streak going Tuesday when they faced a club that's heading toward elimination, Carolina.

They allowed the Hurricanes to score the final four goals in a 4-1 defeat. Chris Kunitz scored 9:01 into the game after Brian Gibbons missed an early penalty shot.

"There's not much good to take out of it. So we've just got to make sure we respond the next game," said captain Sidney Crosby, who reached 100 points for the first time since 2009-10.

The loss spoiled the Penguins' chance to clinch back-to-back division titles for the second time in franchise history. They won the other two in a row in 1992-93 and 1993-94.

The easiest way for Pittsburgh to take the Metropolitan is by earning at least one point against Winnipeg (34-33-10). The Penguins can also win the division if Philadelphia fails to earn two points against Columbus on Thursday or gets taken to a shootout.

Given their dominance over the Jets and their previous incarnation as the Atlanta Thrashers, Pittsburgh would appear to have a strong chance to keep it simple. The Penguins have won 18 of the last 21 matchups and took a 6-5 win in the only other meeting this season with the now-Western Conference club on Jan. 5.

Matt Niskanen provided the tiebreaking goal with 7:22 remaining in the back-and-forth game while Evgeni Malkin and James Neal scored two apiece. Malkin is out for at least another week or two with a foot injury.

They'll try to overcome his absence with a better effort against another team that's all but out of contention. Winnipeg is 11th place in the West and has gone 4-7-4 in its last 15.

The Jets, however, managed to avoid a third straight loss and put a small dent in Phoenix's playoff hopes with a 2-1 shootout win Tuesday in the finale to a five-game trip.

Winnipeg's Andrew Ladd scored in regulation midway through the opening period and was the only player for either team to score in the shootout.

"The way we grinded it out tonight to get two points, that was awesome," forward Blake Wheeler said. "I think we came out of (the road trip) feeling better about ourselves than when it started."

The Jets will try to earn a third win in four home games, while Pittsburgh is 3-1-1 on the road since March 7.

The Penguins have split their four games in Winnipeg since the Jets relocated from Atlanta before the 2011-12 season, and won 3-1 in the most recent visit Feb. 15, 2013.

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