Though the Pittsburgh Penguins have officially missed out on their chance at a first division title in four years they do get a chance to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Pens can do so without any help this evening in a matchup with the Eastern Conference- champion New York Rangers.
With two games left in the regular season, the playoff-bound Penguins own a three-point lead over the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, who also have two games left and are hosting the Buffalo Sabres tonight. A victory tonight or a regulation loss by Philadelphia would lock up the fourth seed for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins can also secure their current playoff seeding with a point and any type of loss by the Flyers. If not, the seeding won't be decided until Saturday, when Pittsburgh hosts rival Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh, though, was officially eliminated from the running for both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference crowns on Tuesday despite a 5-3 victory over Boston due to New York's victory at Philadelphia. The Rangers secured their first division and conference titles since 1994, which was also the last time that New York won a Stanley Cup championship.
The Rangers' 109 points on the season are tied with the Canucks for the most in the NHL, two ahead of the Blues with two games remaining for all three clubs.
The Penguins will look to knock off the East's top seed this evening following their solid victory on Tuesday in Boston. James Neal broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal during a two-man advantage late in the second period, while Sidney Crosby added a goal during the same power play with 1:01 left in the frame.
"I thought our power play really stepped up. [We] scored on the 5-on-3 and then scored again in a game that didn't have a lot going either way," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
Neal's goal was his 40th of the season, while Crosby finished with two goals and an assist to give him nine points over his last three games. Pittsburgh's captain has 34 points in 20 games this season, having missed an extended period of time due to a concussion.
Kris Letang had three assists, Pascal Dupuis extended the NHL's longest point streak this season to 15 straight games (9 goals, 11 assists) and backup goaltender Brent Johnson made 26 saves for a Pittsburgh team that is looking to build momentum having lost four of six before the win over the Bruins.
Pittsburgh did suffer some injuries in the contest, with Matt Niskanen exiting with an undisclosed injury and Joe Vitale going down with a upper-body ailment. Their statuses are currently unknown.
New York also has a bit to be worried about following Tuesday's 5-3 win over Philadelphia. Likely Vezina Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves to record his career-high 39th win of the season, but had his right arm in ice after a game after getting hit with the puck in an unprotected spot.
"I was struggling the whole third period," said Lundqvist. "I told [backup Martin Biron] to be ready in case I couldn't go. A couple of times I was like, 'I'm outta here.' I couldn't really hold the stick. It was tough."
The game itself wasn't a huge challenge after the Rangers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period. Marian Gaborik netted his team-high 41st goal and also logged an assist for his 76th point of the campaign, while Ryan McDonagh also had a goal and an assist. Gaborik has 10 points over a six-game point streak.
Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov also tallied for the Rangers, who have won seven of their past nine and are now guaranteed home-ice advantage for at least the first three rounds of the playoffs should they get that far.
"I don't know about expectation other than maybe confidence," Callahan said when asked what clinching the division and conference titles means for the future. "I think it gives this team the attitude that we are right there with the best teams in this league. We can play with anybody so you know, that's the biggest thing for us. It gives us confidence as we go into the post season."
New York will conclude a quick two-game swing tonight looking for a fifth straight road victory before ending the regular season on Saturday at home against Washington. The Rangers' 51 wins on the season are one shy of the club record of 52 set by the 1993-94 team. This year's Rangers also trail that Cup-winning club by three points for the most in team history.
The Penguins have won their last three meetings with the Rangers by an 11-3 margin, snapping a five-game slide at home to New York with a 2-0 win on Feb. 21. Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury outdueled Lundqvist with a 27-save shutout.
A win tonight for the Penguins would give them 50 victories for just the second time in club history, joining the 56-win 1992-93 squad.
Fleury, who took a loss versus the Flyers last Saturday, is likely to get the start in net tonight and is one win shy of matching Tom Barrasso's franchise record of 226 career victories.