With what appears to be an insurmountable lead in the Metropolitan Division, the Pittsburgh Penguins are simply focused on getting sharper for the playoffs.
If the Carolina Hurricanes keep squandering points, they’ll be watching their division counterparts compete in the postseason from home.
Sidney Crosby looks to secure his fifth 100-point season as Pittsburgh seeks a seventh straight home win over Carolina on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh (48-22-5) has locked up its eighth consecutive playoff berth and likely will wind up as the second seed behind Boston, which holds a nine-point edge atop the Eastern Conference with seven games to play.
The Penguins ended a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over Columbus on Friday, then got two third-period goals from Crosby to cap a 4-1 victory over Chicago on Sunday.
”I thought this was one of our most physical games of the year,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. ”We saw it from the beginning of the game until the end.”
Crosby has five goals and six assists over his last eight games to bring him within one point of his first 100-point campaign since 2009-10. He recorded at least that many points in four of his first five seasons before injuries and a lockout-shortened season held his numbers down.
"The last few games have been better," Crosby said. "I think everyone generated a lot more. When everyone’s going, it makes it easier for the next line to go out there and you’re wearing teams down. To go into the playoffs you need that depth."
Crosby has three goals and 13 assists during a 10-game point streak against the Hurricanes, who have dropped five straight overall meetings the Penguins and are watching their extremely faint playoff hopes slip away.
Carolina (32-32-11) blew a pair of leads in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus before again struggling offensively in Monday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa.
The Hurricanes are seven points behind the Blue Jackets for the East’s second wild-card spot with seven games remaining. Jeff Skinner scored his 30th goal – extending his goal-scoring streak to four games – but Carolina fell to 6-10-2 since the Olympic break.
"It’s tough," coach Kirk Muller said. "There was a lot of fight in our guys and we’re battling every night, and every point means something."
Jordan Staal, who has three assists in six games against his former team since being acquired from Pittsburgh on draft night prior to last season, was pleased with how the Hurricanes responded late in the game, though.
”There were definitely opportunities and a little spark at the end,” Staal said.
Crosby had two assists in each of the first two meetings this season and scored in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime win Dec. 27 in the most recent matchup.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the constant in the Penguins’ recent and home mastery of Carolina, posting a 2.39 goals-against average in winning all five games of the current run and a 2.27 GAA in the six consecutive home victories.
Fleury is 2-2-0 with a 1.52 GAA in his last four outings, and he could be in net opposite Anton Khudobin in this contest after Cam Ward made 28 saves in Monday’s loss.
Khudobin, 2-2-1 with a 1.79 GAA over his last five starts, made his only career start against Pittsburgh in a 3-2 loss March 12, 2013, while with Boston.