Published April 13, 2013
| Sports Network
First meets last on Saturday night, when the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins wrap a three-game road trip with a stop in Sunrise to battle the Florida Panthers.
The Penguins have already wrapped up their first Atlantic Division title in five years and are simply battling for position. They can finish no lower than second in the East and lead the Montreal Canadiens by five points for the top seed in the conference.
Pittsburgh is also four points back of the Chicago Blackhawks for the best record in the league.
Florida, meanwhile, is last in the East with 32 points, one season after winning the Southeast Division for the first time in club history.
The Penguins have won 11 of their last 14 against the Panthers, though Florida did log a 6-4 home victory in the most recent encounter on Feb 26. Tomas Kopecky logged the first hat trick of his career in the win, while Tomas Fleischmann scored the winner in the third period and had two assists.
Chris Kunitz and James Neal each posted a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who come into this season series finale having won three straight and 18 of their last 20 overall on the year.
Pittsburgh continues to win despite the absence of Sidney Crosby, who has not played since suffering a fractured jaw on March 30. The Pens captain still leads the NHL with 56 points and did make a surprise trip to Tampa on Thursday ahead of his club's 6-3 win over the Lightning. Crosby, though, has yet to begin skating and has no return date.
Neal (concussion) and defenseman Paul Martin (right wrist surgery) are also out, but blueliner Kris Letang returned from a six-game absence caused by a lower body injury and notched an assist versus the Lightning.
Forward Jussi Jokinen, meanwhile, continued his surge since being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes. He had two goals and an assist on Thursday, giving him three goals and five points in three games since the trade.
"When I got traded here and found out who I was going to play with I was expecting a lot from myself," said Jokinen. "This was a good game for everyone here and luckily I was able to contribute."
Pascal Dupuis registered a goal and two assists, while Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and Tanner Glass each scored once for the Pens, who got 16 saves from Tomas Vokoun.
The Penguins conclude a three-game road trip in a matchup with the Panthers, who had won four of five before getting routed 7-2 in Winnipeg by the Jets on Thursday.
Fleischmann and T.J. Brennan both scored and had an assist. Jacob Markstrom allowed six goals on 23 shots before getting pulled in favor of Scott Clemmensen, who surrendered one goal on 12 shots in 28 minutes of relief.
"There's lots of different things we can point at, but I think the whole game didn't go (well) for us," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said.
Panthers forward Peter Mueller did not make the trip to Winnipeg as he and his wife are expecting their first child. His status for this game is unknown.