(SportsNetwork.com) - The Ottawa Senators will try to give their playoff chances a huge boost when they host the sliding Pittsburgh Penguins in Tuesday's crucial battle at Canadian Tire Centre.
The Senators have used a late surge in 2014-15 to insert themselves in the postseason conversation and they enter tonight just two points behind the Penguins for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost three straight in regulation and a 3-8-1 mark over the last 12 games has dampened the club's postseason chances.
With 95 points, the Penguins are tied with Detroit for the East's two wild card spots. The Red Wings host Carolina tonight, and like the Pens and Sens, Detroit has three games left in the regular season.
In addition to Detroit and Pittsburgh, the Senators also have a chance to catch Boston for the third playoff berth from the Atlantic Division. The Bruins also have 95 points, but own the tiebreaker over Detroit. Boston also has three games left, but is idle on Tuesday.
The Senators could have entered tonight's game in even better shape in the East, but they couldn't beat Toronto in a shootout on Sunday.
The 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre resulted in a point which could be useful down the stretch, but it marked Ottawa's second loss in Toronto in little over a week. Toronto is in seventh place in the Atlantic and was officially eliminated from playoff contention back on March 17.
The Senators, who also dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Maple Leafs on March 28, had a three-game win streak halted in Sunday's setback. It marked the fourth straight game in which Ottawa played beyond regulation.
Mark Stone scored a power-play goal early in the third period for the Sens to make it a 2-2 game, but Toronto would eventually win when Peter Holland scored in the seventh round of the shootout.
After Jonathan Bernier had stopped Erik Karlsson to begin the seventh round, Holland flew down the ice and lifted a soft forehand past Andrew Hammond for the extra point.
Stone added an assist and Karlsson also scored in regulation for the Senators. Hammond made 36 stops, but fell to 17-1-2 in his NHL career.
"We have three games left and if we aren't willing to go all out and use all our energy now we're going to have a lot of regret this summer," Hammond said. "They are all must-win games now."
Tuesday's contest is the final home test of the regular season for Ottawa, which will visit the New York Rangers on Thursday before completing its schedule Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Pens hope to salvage the finale of a three-game road trip this evening after losing in Philly on Sunday. The 4-1 setback was Pittsburgh's second loss of the week against the rival Flyers, who swept the 2014-15 season series and beat the Penguins for the eighth straight time. It marked the first time Pittsburgh was swept by the Flyers in the season series since the 1983-84 campaign.
Pittsburgh's current 0-3 stretch began with a 4-1 home loss to the Flyers on Wednesday. The Pens then blew a two-goal lead en route to a 5-3 loss Saturday in Columbus.
Star forward Evgeni Malkin returned from a two-game absence to play in Sunday's test, but the Pens' offense only mustered one goal despite sending 47 shots at Philadelphia's Steve Mason.
"It's great to say we need to score, but it's getting those opportunities and having quality chances," said Penguins coach Mike Johnston. "Tonight we did, and we just didn't finish."
Brandon Sutter scored Pittsburgh's only goal, and Thomas Greiss allowed four goals on 20 shots.
Malkin returned from an undisclosed injury, but the Pens were still shorthanded on the blue line. Defensemen Kris Letang (concussion) and Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) sat out once again. Letang has missed four in a row and is sidelined indefinitely. Ehrhoff is nearing a return, but will sit out a sixth straight time on Tuesday.
Forward Steve Downie also sat out Sunday with an upper-body injury and is questionable for tonight.
Pittsburgh is 2-0 versus the Senators this season and can sweep the season series tonight. The Pens have claimed six of the last eight overall against Ottawa and have won three of four in Canada's capital.
Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to start tonight for the Pens. He owns a 24-17-2 record and 2.90 goals against average in 49 career games versus Ottawa.
Hammond will start for the Senators in his first career outing against Pittsburgh.