The Islanders' playoff hopes are, somehow, still faintly alive, thanks to a Penguins team the Isles beat twice in three nights. Pittsburgh's win over the Sabres Friday night kept the Isles nine points behind eighth-place Buffalo and Washington, meaning the Isles still have something besides pride to play for Saturday against the Bruins. But even if the Isles win their remaining five games, they would be eliminated if either the Sabres or Capitals pick up a point.

Regardless of the outcome in Buffalo, the Islanders were well aware their playoff chances were all but finished after a 3-2 loss to the Flyers on March 15. That regulation defeat left them 3-7-3 in their past 13, four games under .500 with 11 left to play, with only a mathematical chance of being in the race over the final month.

That the Isles have gone 5-1 since that loss -- with back-to-back wins over the Penguins to cap off the run -- is either a testament to the character in the dressing room or a testament to how much easier it is to win NHL games when the pressure is off.

After a 1-17-3 slide in the first half of 2010-11 essentially left the Isles eliminated from the playoff picture by New Year's Day, the team went 25-21-8 in the next 54 games to give some hope for this season.

They would prefer to see this late run to get back to .500 as more of a character trait than the benefits of being out of it.

"It's a credit to the guys," Jack Capuano said after Thursday's 5-3 win over the Penguins. "They're doing some good things."

Not consistently enough to have stayed in the thick of the race all season, but still enough to have the weakest pulse into the penultimate weekend.

Penguins 5, Sabres 3: Sore nose and all, Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists to help the visiting Penguins snap a mini-slump and end the Sabres' winning streak at five.

It was Crosby's third four-point game in a season in which concussion troubles have limited him to 18 games. And it came after he was held without a point in his previous two outings and a day after his nose was bloodied by a puck in Thursday's loss to the Islanders.

Steve Sullivan had a goal and two assists and Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. -- AP

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