The Pittsburgh Penguins are officially Metropolitan Division champions.
The Minnesota Wild would be happy just to claim a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh is also excited to have Paul Martin back on the ice, and he’ll return to his native Minnesota looking to hurt the Wild’s postseason hopes Saturday night.
While winning the division had become a mere formality for the Penguins (49-23-5), they finally clinched with Philadelphia’s 2-0 loss to Columbus on Thursday. Pittsburgh, which won the Atlantic last season, has earned back-to-back division crowns for the first time since 1992-93 and ’93-94.
"It’s big," Martin told the team’s official website. "For us, it’s a big accomplishment. It’s a testament to the guys in the room here."
The Penguins went on to win 4-2 at Winnipeg later Thursday night, their third victory in four games. Sidney Crosby ran his point streak to six games with a pair of assists and Martin, playing his first game since missing 18 with a broken hand, scored the go-ahead goal in the third period.
"To be able to play that type of game after being out with an injury to his hand, I thought he was excellent," coach Dan Bylsma said of Martin, who led all skaters with 23:46 of ice time. "Just the execution also on our power play was noticeable for our group in that regard. He is out in all situations. It was clearly evident what getting him back in our lineup can do for our team."
The Penguins struggled through a 1-for-20 slump on the power play before going 1 for 2 against the Jets.
"I think there are areas we are working on as a team, and that’s where we’re at," said Bylsma, who became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 250 regular-season victories, doing so in 396 games. "I thought we took strides in several areas in that regard."
Pittsburgh is 10-2-0 when Martin records at least one point.
"He’s really patient," said Crosby, who leads the NHL with 102 points. "His poise back there, his patience with the puck. He’s just really smart and that kind of calming aspect brings a lot to the power play."
Martin played for the University of Minnesota and has only played two NHL games in his home state in 10 NHL seasons, winning once with New Jersey and in Pittsburgh’s last visit Oct. 18, 2011.
The Penguins had gone 2-8-1 with one tie against the Wild before taking the last two meetings, including a 5-2 victory Dec. 19. Crosby assisted on both of Chris Kunitz’s goals, giving him nine points during a five-game stretch in the series.
The Wild (39-26-12) concluded a 2-1-1 trek with Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago. Erik Haula scored the tying goal with under two minutes left in regulation.
"That’s a huge point for us," said coach Mike Yeo, whose club leads Phoenix and Dallas in a three-team race for the Western Conference’s two wild-card spots.
"Obviously we would have liked to have gotten two, but when you can get a point and you’re not completely on top of things, that’s a good thing."
The Wild play four of their final five games at home but have lost a season-high three straight there, totaling five goals.
Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t start any of those games but was in net for Minnesota’s last three, and he’s 4-0-3 with a 1.93 goals-against average in seven starts since being acquired from Edmonton on March 4. He is 2-3-1 with a 3.68 GAA in his last seven games against the Penguins, including playoffs.
The Wild are the only team Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t beaten, losing all five starts with a 3.76 GAA.