The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't have to break a sweat to secure their seventh straight trip to the playoffs. Now, the Eastern Conference leaders will try to move closer to the Atlantic Division title when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh last played on Friday when it beat the visiting New York Rangers in a shootout to salvage the finale of a home-and-home series. The Penguins then became the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff spot after New Jersey lost an overtime decision to Buffalo on Sunday.
With the playoff spot secured it shouldn't be too long before Pittsburgh is wrapping up its first division title since 2007-08. The Pens are 16 points ahead of the Rangers and Islanders for the division lead with nine games left.
Pittsburgh is also three points ahead of Montreal for the top spot in the East, but the Canadiens, who play Washington on Tuesday, have a game in hand over the Pens.
The Rangers slammed the Penguins by a 6-1 count in New York on Wednesday, but Pittsburgh answered with Friday's 2-1 decision in the Steel City. It was the Pens' first win since having a 15-game win streak halted in their final game of March.
Jussi Jokinen scored the lone goal in the shootout to help the Pens edge the Rangers at CONSOL Energy Center. Jokinen beat Henrik Lundqvist with a trademark wrister while skating from right to left across the slot in the first round, and though two more of his new teammates failed to score, Marc- Andre Fleury turned away all three New York chances.
"I think that's my No. 1 move," Jokinen said. "I've had lots of shootouts in my career but that's the first time against Lundqvist. I just decided to try that one and I got off a pretty good shot."
Jokinen also provided the sole regulation tally for the Penguins in his first game with the club. The Finnish forward was acquired from Carolina on Wednesday, joining Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, and Douglas Murray as recent Penguins' trade acquisitions.
Fleury ended up 34 saves for Pittsburgh, which is kicking off a three-game road trip tonight. The Penguins are 13-5-0 as the visiting team this season.
The Penguins, who are still without forward Sidney Crosby and defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin, saw winger James Neal join the ranks of the injured on Friday. Neal suffered a concussion after taking an elbow to the head from Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto and will be sidelined indefinitely.
The group of Crosby, Neal, Letang, and Martin represents four of Pittsburgh's top seven scorers this season.
Carolina, meanwhile, is running out of time to prove itself playoff worth. With 10 games left, the Hurricanes are tied for 13th in the East and are eight points out of a postseason spot.
Contributing to Carolina's grim playoff status is the club's current five-game losing streak. All five losses have come in regulation, giving the Hurricanes a 1-11-1 record over their last 13 games.
The 'Canes were dealt a 6-2 loss Monday evening in Boston. The Bruins scored three times in the first and led 5-0 after 40 minutes before cruising to victory in the third.
Patrick Dwyer and Drayson Bowman each scored for the Hurricanes, who saw starting goaltender Justin Peters pulled eight minutes in after giving up two goals on four shots. Dan Ellis gave up four goals on 32 shots the rest of the way.
"We have to be better in sticking with plays," said Carolina forward Jeff Skinner. "Things just haven't gone our way the past two games because we're getting a lot of shots on net, but not getting it in."
The Hurricanes are 0-7-0 at home since picking up their last win at PNC Arena against New Jersey on March 9. Carolina is just 7-12-0 as the host this season.
Carolina has won the only meeting with the Penguins in 2013, however, posting a 4-1 win over a visiting Pittsburgh club on Feb. 28. The clubs have split the last six encounters, but the Pens still have six wins over the last nine encounters.
Pittsburgh has lost three of its last four games in Raleigh.