Last updated: March 20. 2014 11:35PM - 2540 Views
By - tvenesky@civitasmedia.com

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• Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (34-20-3-5, 76 points, 2nd place in the East Division) at Syracuse Crunch (24-27-4-6, 58 points, 5th place in the East Division)

• 7 p.m. today, Onondaga County War Memorial Arena, Syracuse, N.Y.

• Listen live on The Sports Hub, 102.3 FM

Players to watch

Syracuse — Jonathan Marchessault, acquired by the Crunch earlier this month in a trade with Springfield, has only faced the Penguins twice with his former team. But he has had success in the past against them, including a three-point night at the beginning of last season.

Penguins — Jayson Megna is back from another stint in Pittsburgh, and the talented center has two goals in three games against the Crunch this season.

Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond admits that the seven-month AHL season can be a grind.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“The first two months of the season are exciting because it’s new guys and you want to prove yourself. Then it slows down and February is a tough month,” he said. “March is tough, and then when you see April around the corner, it’s the best time of the year. It’s going to be fun.”

With the postseason in sight and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins right in the thick of things, the end of March is not only fun, it could prove to be very eventful.

Heading into the weekend, the Penguins are in the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference. They are one point behind Binghamton for first place in the East Division, they are tied with Albany and Norfolk at 76 points, eighth-place Providence is just one point behind and Hershey trails by six.

With three games this weekend, do the Penguins have a chance to pull away a bit? Does anyone?

“It’s going to be a situation where you have to take care of your own business. It’s so tight with so few games left, and all the teams in the mix are quality teams that no one’s taking a step back,” Penguins coach John Hynes said. “We’re anticipating it’s going to be tight the rest of the way.”

The Penguins travel to Syracuse to play the Crunch tonight, come back home for a Saturday matchup against Utica and then leave for Albany for a Sunday game against the Devils. It will mark the ninth three-in-three weekend for the Penguins this season with two more to go.

It’s a grind, Leblond admitted, but there is another focus that diverts attention away from the grueling travel and quick turnarounds.

“Right now the games matter even more. You see the end and you want to be in the playoffs, so the adrenaline kicks in,” he said. “By the third game, to me, you don’t feel tired. But the day after, you do hurt.”

With 58 points, Syracuse’s playoff hopes are quickly fading. But that doesn’t mean the Crunch will be pushovers against the Penguins. In eight matchups this season, the Crunch have beaten the Penguins three times, including a 4-0 shutout the last time the teams faced each other on Feb. 28.

Utica is another team on the outside looking in, but the Comets are eight points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, so there is hope. They’ve faced the Penguins twice this year and both games have been extremely tight. The Penguins won the first matchup 1-0 on Dec. 14, and the Comets got a 2-1 shootout win on March 7.

Sunday’s game against the Devils could result in some movement in the playoff seedings, as the Devils are tied with the Penguins at 76 points.

Three games in three days with a lot on the line. Sounds like the pressure of the postseason has already surfaced.

“We’ve been playing playoff hockey for weeks,” Leblond said. “We know what we have to do.”

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