PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins have locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but will be using the final four games of the regular season to make sure they are playing the right way heading into the playoffs.
The Penguins secured the number one spot and extended their winning streak to six games with a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
An emotional pre-game ceremony gave the Bruins some extra jump to start the game, but Tomas Vokoun held the fort and made 38 saves in the win.
Jussi Jokinen, Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang all scored for the Penguins, who have now won 21 of their last 23 games.
While the Penguins have locked up their playoff seed, their opponent tonight is in a dogfight just to qualify.
The Ottawa Senators are currently sitting in seventh place with 52 points. They are just one point behind the New York Islanders and are tied with the New York Rangers. The Winnipeg Jets are lurking in ninth place with 49 points.
While the Senators are looking for points in the standings, they may also be looking to settle a score with Matt Cooke.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a collision with Cooke. Many Senators fans and even their owner, Eugene Melnyk, believe malicious intent on Cooke’s part, which led to the injury.
While unfortunate, there is nothing to suggest that was the case and Cooke received no supplemental discipline from the league.
Karlsson has six goals and four assists in 14 games this season.
Kyle Turris leads the team with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists), with Sergei Gonchar a close second with 24 points (two goals, 22 assists).
Turris is tied for the team-lead in goals with captain Daniel Alfredsson.
While injuries to star players like Karlsson and Jason Spezza (back surgery) have been a main factor in the team’s low offensive output (108 goals in 44 games), their defense and goaltending has kept them in the playoff hunt.
As a team, they have only allowed 96 goals this season, which is the fewest in the Eastern Conference and only second to the Chicago Blackhawks in the league.
Goaltender Craig Anderson (11-7-2, 1.64 GAA, .944 save percentage) has been key to the Senators’ success.
Against the Penguins, Anderson is 4-3-1 with one tie and a 2.42 GAA and .923 save percentage.
For Pittsburgh, they will be without the services of Evgeni Malkin (upper-body), Sidney Crosby (jaw) and James Neal (concussion) again tonight.
On Sunday, head coach Dan Bylsma said all are progressing in their recovery, but did not give a timetable for when any would return to the lineup.
Meanwhile, Crosby continues to lead the NHL scoring race by one point over Steven Stamkos.
Chris Kunitz leads the team with 21 goals, while Pascal Dupuis has 20.
Bylsma said that Marc-Andre Fleury (22-6-0, 2.32 GAA, .917 save percentage) would likely start in three of the team’s final four games. With Buffalo in town on Tuesday, it would appear likely that Fleury will start tonight.
Against the Senators, Fleury is 9-8-1 with a 3.34 GAA and .898 save percentage.
UPDATE: 11:40 a.m. – According to RDS’ Renaud Lavoie, Fleury did not travel with the team because “his wife could give birth soon.”
Instead, Vokoun (12-4, 2.54 GAA, .915 save percentage) will get the start tonight.
Against the Senators, Vokoun is 5-12-0 with a 3.33 GAA and a .897 save percentage.
The puck is set to drop at 7:30 p.m. and you can watch it on Root Sports.
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