The Pittsburgh Penguins still have some ground to make up if they plan on winning the Atlantic Division, but they're at least within reach.
The New Jersey Devils can't say the same about their valiant push to make the postseason.
Pittsburgh tries to use the momentum from an impressive win to inch closer to the division lead Friday night against the visiting Devils, who have fallen nine points out of a playoff spot with nine games to play.
Some thought the Penguins (43-23-8) might fall into the lower half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but after going 3-6-4 in their first 13 games without Malkin, they've picked it up once again.
Pittsburgh had won five of seven to stay in fourth place in the East heading into Philadelphia on Thursday, and retained its hopes of catching the Atlantic-leading Flyers. The Penguins didn't come away with the clean two points they were hoping for, but pulled within four points of the division leaders with a 2-1 shootout victory.
"We still have a long way to go to get ahead of them here,'' center Jordan Staal said, "but it's always a good feeling to come into this barn and walk away with two points.''
The Flyers still have a game in hand, leaving Pittsburgh with limited margin for error, but the Penguins have a five-point lead on Tampa Bay for the No. 4 slot.
New Jersey (34-35-4) has had its sights set on sneaking in with the East's eighth spot, and after a 23-3-2 stretch from Jan. 9-March 15, it looked like it might have a chance.
The Devils were in a three-way tie for 10th at that point - six points behind eighth-place Buffalo - but they've come up empty three times in four games. Tuesday's 4-1 loss at Boston combined with the Sabres' 2-0 win at Montreal left New Jersey in 12th place, nine points back of Buffalo.
"The guys, they know our position," coach Jacques Lemaire told the Devils' official website. "Right now, we just want to play the best we can. We've got big games - it's good for us."
Even with the hopes of a playoff berth all but lost, New Jersey got some good news Thursday. Forward Zach Parise, who's been out since late October with a torn right meniscus, returned to practice for the first time.
Parise traveled with the team to Pittsburgh, and while he won't play Friday and likely won't be in the lineup Saturday at Buffalo, he could be back Wednesday against the New York Islanders.
"There's not going to be too many guys who will say, 'Hey, I'm healthy but we're not going to make (the playoffs) - I'm not going to play,'" Parise said. "If I'm healthy and I can play, I want to play."
The Penguins beat the Devils twice earlier in the season with Crosby and Malkin healthy, but New Jersey has won both meetings in 2011 - including 2-1 in overtime March 4 in Newark thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play goal.
Tyler Kennedy scored for Pittsburgh in the loss, his first goal in 16 career games in the series. Kennedy, who scored the Penguins' lone regulation goal Thursday, has three goals and four assists in his last five games.
Kennedy and his teammates will have their hands full Friday, however. Martin Brodeur is 8-1-0 with a 0.88 goals-against average and three shutouts in his last nine starts versus Pittsburgh.