The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to keep the pressure on in the heated race for the Atlantic Division title, when they host the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center in tonight's opener of a home-and-home series.
With 100 points, the Penguins enter today just one behind the New York Rangers for the top spot in both the division and Eastern Conference. The clubs each have seven games left in the regular season and the Rangers are also playing tonight in Minnesota. Pittsburgh is also four points ahead of Philadelphia for the fourth seed in the East and the Pens hold a game in hand over the idle Flyers.
The Penguins have been able to cut into the Rangers' once-comfortable lead thanks to a 14-1-1 mark in their last 16 trips to the ice. Pittsburgh's only regulation defeat in that stretch came in Saturday's 8-4 blowout loss in Ottawa, but the Pens quickly rebounded with Sunday's 5-2 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils.
Pittsburgh figures to stay hot tonight against an Islanders team that has lost five straight, seven of eight and 12 of the last 14 games in this series. The Penguins have also claimed 13 straight home tilts in this series and the Isles haven't won in the Steel City since Dec. 21, 2007, when Pittsburgh still played at Mellon Arena.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each posted a goal and an assist to lead the Penguins to Sunday's win over the Devils. The victory allowed Pittsburgh to reach the 100-point mark for a third straight season.
Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz each added a goal and an assist for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury allowed two goals on 34 shots for his 41st win of the season, a new career-high.
"They played well and we knew it was going to be a tough game," said Crosby. "But to bounce back and win this game the way we did after giving up eight goals felt good."
Sunday's win was Pittsburgh's 10th straight victory on home ice and the Pens are now 27-8-2 as the host this season. A win tonight would match the longest home winning streak in franchise history, equaling the mark set from Jan. 5- March 7, 1991.
Crosby has played in seven games since coming back from head and neck injuries that caused him to miss over three months and he has two goals and 11 assists since the return. The former Hart Trophy winner has an amazing 91 points (36 goals, 55 assists) in just 56 games since the start of the 2010-11 season.
Malkin, meanwhile, is closing in on his second career scoring title, as he leads the NHL with 97 points, nine more than Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. Malkin, who won the Art Ross Trophy with a career-high 113 points in 2008-09, has 16 points (8g, 8a) over his last eight games.
On the injury front for Pittsburgh, veteran winger Steve Sullivan is questionable for tonight with a lower-body injury. Forward Joe Vitale (shoulder) and defenseman Matt Niskanen (upper body) are doubtful for this evening.
The Islanders, who are on the cusp of being mathematically eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race, have won three of their last four games and are coming off Sunday's shootout win over the Panthers. Frans Nielsen scored the game-winner in the first round of the shootout, lifting New York to the 3-2 road victory at BankAtlantic Center.
Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo scored in regulation for the Isles and Evgeni Nabokov posted 33 saves in the victory.
"We're playing hard, we just want to make sure that we continue to elevate our battle level, and we have to make sure that we're strong on our sticks and strong on the body," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano.
The Islanders are closing a three-game road trip tonight and have a 16-17-5 record as the guest this season. New York will host the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday.