(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins take aim at just their second win in seven games when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes for Thursday's Metropolitan Division clash.
With 91 points, the Penguins are likely headed back to the postseason for a ninth consecutive spring, but the club hasn't been playing at a high level lately. Pittsburgh has lost five of six and has scored a total of seven goals during that stretch.
However, the Pens have picked up points in two straight, following up Saturday's 3-1 win at Arizona with Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss against visiting St. Louis. Pittsburgh did hold a 2-0 lead over the Blues at one point, but eventually lost when Alex Steen recorded the game-winner just 35 seconds into OT.
Former Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek set up the winning play, as he held the puck at the right point, raised his stick and faked a shot before slapping a cross-ice pass to Steen for a successful deflection.
"The OT goal was my fault," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy admitted. "(Steen) got inside position, and I can't let that happen."
Blake Comeau and Steve Downie lit the lamp for the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury suffered the setback despite stopping 32 shots.
The Penguins suffered just their third regulation defeat and fifth overall this season when scoring first, dropping to 17-3-2.
Pittsburgh star forward Evgeni Malkin missed his fifth straight game Tuesday with a lower-body injury and is not expected to be back until the weekend when the Pens host Arizona and San Jose on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Fellow forward Patric Hornqvist has sat out the last four tilts with an undisclosed injury and could also return this weekend.
Malkin leads the Pens with 28 goals and is second on the team to captain Sidney Crosby with 64 points. Hornqvist has 23 goals and 22 assists for Pittsburgh.
The Pens are third in the Metro Division. They are two points behind the New York Islanders and three in front of the Washington Capitals, who hold the first of two wild card spots in the East.
Carolina beat the Penguins on the road to begin the season series on Nov. 28, but Pittsburgh answered with a win the following day to split the home-and- home set. The Pens also notched a 2-1 regulation win against a visiting Hurricanes' club on Dec. 31, handing Carolina its seventh loss in the last nine meetings in this series.
Pittsburgh has won four straight in Raleigh and owns a 19-10-7 road record this season.
The Hurricanes, who have been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, have lost their last four games (0-2-2). They are just 2-6-3 in 11 games this month.
Carolina did put forth a strong effort Monday night against visiting Chicago, but Corey Crawford was able to steal a win for the Blackhawks.
The Hurricanes fired 44 shots on net in the 3-1 loss and Crawford shut out Carolina in the third period with 15 saves over the final 20 minutes.
The Blackhawks led 2-0 after the first period, but Carolina cut the deficit in half early in the second period on a goal from Victor Rask. Crawford, however, was able to keep the 'Canes off the boards the rest of the way. He stopped 18- of-19 shots in the second period alone.
Anton Khudobin stopped 22 shots for the Hurricanes, who will miss the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
"We weren't sharp early, not sharp," said Carolina coach Bill Peters.
The Hurricanes are 0-1-1 at the start of a five-game homestand and 15-15-6 at PNC Arena this season.