PITTSBURGH — If things had fallen a certain way for the Pittsburgh Penguins, their regular-season finale Friday night against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena would provide a chance to relax, give their key players light minutes.
Ottawa (28-41-11) is buried in the standings and long ago lost its shot at the postseason.
As it is, the Penguins (46-29-6) are still jockeying for playoff position despite a 5-4 overtime win Thursday at Columbus. Pittsburgh could face the Blue Jackets, Philadelphia, New Jersey or Washington in the first round.
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The Penguins cannot catch Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division, but several players have said recently they would like to secure home-ice advantage for at least the first round.
That is understandable considering Pittsburgh is 29-9-2 at home.
“I think we need to win again to get home ice, but it was a good win for us (in Columbus),” said winger Phil Kessel, whose second goal of the game was the winner in overtime against the Blue Jackets.
A win Friday would lock up second place in the division, securing home ice, although the Penguins’ opponent won’t necessarily be clear. Pittsburgh is the only NHL team that doesn’t play Saturday, the league’s final day of the season, so it will only be able to watch things unfold depending on what happens against Ottawa.
It’s expected that Penguins center Derick Brassard will miss his fifth game because of a lower-body injury.
The Senators, who ended a three-game losing streak Wednesday with a 4-2 win at Buffalo, haven’t been concerned about a playoff berth for a long time. In fact, that win helped ensure they won’t finish last overall in the NHL.
At this point, the question for them is where they will end up in the draft lottery, but the focus has been on this final road trip.
“We’re all professional athletes and we all have a lot of pride,” defenseman Mark Borowiecki told the Ottawa Sun. “We’re all wired to compete, and you don’t want to finish last. I take a lot of pride in being an NHL player, and I don’t want to go into the summer saying we’re the worst team in the NHL.”
With a final game Saturday at Boston, Ottawa held its final practice of the season Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
“We’re going to give our very best in the last two games, knowing full well that those two games are going to be very difficult — not just the fact that they’re on the road, but we’re playing against high-end teams,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said.
Boucher said goaltender Craig Anderson will start against Pittsburgh, and winger Bobby Ryan is expected to play after he left Wednesday’s game because of a lower-body issue.
But winger Marion Gaborik had surgery Thursday in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disk, and winger Mark Stone is being shut down after he was not able to recover sufficiently from a high ankle sprain.
It is unclear whether defenseman Erik Karlsson might join the Senators for one or both games. He has played just one game since the March 19 death of his son, and his timetable has been left to him.