The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to capture the Atlantic Division and trying to build momentum toward the playoffs. They're about to start a four-game stretch that should bring back pleasant memories of last year's postseason.
Pittsburgh (42-24-5) leads New Jersey by one point atop the Atlantic, but the Devils have a game in hand. The Penguins are 6-2-1 since the Olympic break as they begin this stretch against each of the four teams they eliminated en route to winning the Stanley Cup.
"It's been going well for us, knock on wood," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury told the Penguins' official Web site. "Hopefully things can keep going the same way and we'll be ready for the playoffs."
Although Carolina (29-33-8) has faltered with the third-worst record in the NHL since being swept by Pittsburgh in last year's Eastern Conference finals, the Hurricanes have played well against the Penguins this season. Carolina has beaten Pittsburgh in regulation and in overtime, while also losing in a shootout.
Malkin has missed the last two games with a bruised right foot suffered in Sunday's 2-1 victory at Tampa Bay. He has indicated there's a chance he could return against Carolina.
Malkin's absence seems to have hurt Sidney Crosby, who is tied for third in the NHL with 87 points but has none in the last two games. Crosby's only longer pointless streak this season was a five-game run Oct. 31-Nov. 10 in which Malkin was out with a strained right shoulder.
The Penguins finished a 2-2-1 road trip with their first shutout of the season, 3-0 at Boston on Thursday as Fleury made 17 saves. Pittsburgh had a goal in each period as Tyler Kennedy, Alex Ponikarovsky and Michael Rupp all scored.
"I think we have really good depth on our team," Kennedy said. "That is what we are going to need coming down the stretch here."
The power play has been a problem all season for the Penguins, who were 0 for 4 on Thursday to drop to 2 for 19 on the road trip.
The trip began with a 4-3 overtime loss at Carolina on March 11 as Eric Staal had a goal and an assist to record two points against brother Jordan's team for the second straight meeting. Jordan Staal scored his first career goal in 15 games against the Hurricanes.
That game opened a four-game homestand for Carolina, which lost the next two before winning 4-3 over Washington on Thursday when Ray Whitney scored in overtime. Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen each had two assists.
"Coach (Paul) Maurice actually had a pretty good comment before the game," Whitney said. "He said, 'Young guys, you have the opportunity to show what you have, playing the top team.' It's tough now in the situation that we're in, but you're kind of demanded to lead by example and do the best you can in a bad situation."
Eric Staal had a goal and an assist and is tied with Jokinen for the team lead with 56 points.