After clinching the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins can turn their attention to getting healthier in time for the start of the playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators still have plenty to play for as they look to solidify their playoff standing with a statement victory over the surging Penguins on Monday night in Ontario.
While Pittsburgh (34-10-0) isn’t likely to hurry back some of its key banged-up players, the team hopes to keep playing well after wrapping up home-ice advantage for the first three rounds with a 3-2 victory at Boston on Saturday.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the Penguins haven’t appeared to skip a beat despite the continued absence of its top offensive weapons.
NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby has missed eight games with a broken jaw and winger James Neal has missed five because of a concussion. Reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin has also missed three contests with a shoulder injury.
“These types of races usually come down to the last game, last two games,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “and to be able to clinch the division and now clinch the conference this early says a lot for our team and how we’ve played through this shortened season with different types of injuries.”
Now the Penguins look to sweep the season series from the Senators for the first time since winning all six games in 1995-96.
After having its four-game winning streak stopped in a 4-1 home loss to Toronto on Saturday, Ottawa (23-15-6) has a great deal at stake as it looks to avoid a third loss to the Penguins.
With just four games remaining, the Senators are engaged in a tight battle with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets for the final two playoff spots in the East. They’re also one point behind the sixth-place New York Islanders.
Despite getting off a season-high 50 shots, Ottawa managed only a Jakob Silfverberg second-period goal on Saturday.
“When you have 50 shots and one goal you can go back and look at it and maybe there’s too many shots from the perimeter and not getting to the good second chances and rebounds,” center Zack Smith said.
Colin Greening who scored the team’s lone goal in a 2-1 home shootout loss to the Penguins on Jan. 27, may be able to help the team get back on track in this contest.
Greening has three goals and four assists in his last five in this series, but has scored just once in his last eight games overall.
While Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has a 1.44 goals-against average in the two wins over the Senators, backup Tomas Vokoun - who had 38 saves on Saturday - is 2-8 with a 3.60 GAA lifetime at Ottawa.
Brenden Morrow acquired from Dallas on March 24, has helped pick up the scoring slack in Crosby’s absence with five goals and eight points over his last five games.
Pascal Dupuis had a six-game point streak (3 goals, 7 assists) snapped against the Bruins. He scored a first-period goal in a 4-2 home win in this series on Feb. 13.
Pittsburgh has won 21 of 23 by a 78-50 margin and has scored 25 goals during its current six-game run.
Ottawa’s Craig Anderson who had a three-game winning streak snapped against the Maple Leafs, is 3-3-0 with 2.01 GAA in six starts since returning from an ankle injury.
Anderson, though, has lost four of five with a 3.54 GAA versus Pittsburgh.