By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Tonight the Penguins travel to Scotiabank Place to take on the Ottawa Senators for the first time since a Feb. 13 incident between Matt Cooke and Sens defenseman Erik Karlsson that left the latter with a serious leg injury and left Sens management furious.

On Sunday night co-editor Jesse Marshall joined 93.7 The Fan’s Colin Dunlap to preview the game, and to look deeper into the NHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture.

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Both teams, entering Monday, have four regular season games left. While the Pens will inevitably finish with the top seed, Ottawa, a potential first-round opponent, is still fighting for its postseason life as one of four teams in contention for three remaining playoff berths.

Karlsson, regarded as one of the league’s premier defenders, has just recently resumed practicing with the team after a body check by Cooke that was deemed not punishable by league officials resulted in a lacerated Achilles tendon. He has no timetable for a return.

Marshall maintains the Cooke-Karlsson incident was simply a hockey play with an unfortunate side effect, and that it does the Sens no good for owner Eugene Melnyk to continue his public crusade against Cooke.

“The bottom line, really, is, the Senators need this game. They lost yesterday to the Maple Leafs. They’re hanging onto that seventh spot, and Winnipeg is not out of it yet,” Marshall told Colin Sunday. “If Ottawa wants to make the postseason, I think they’d be better served to direct their attentions elsewhere.”

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The Penguins, who will be missing a number of key regulars Monday evening, have called up enforcer Steve MacIntyre from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Colin began by asking Marshall if he thinks MacIntyre will see a lot of ice time in the event the Senators try any message-sending:

Marshall went on to talk with Colin about the importance of the Pens using these next four contests to get into good habits for the postseason, and further integrate their newcomers.

Speaking of which, Colin and Marshall also shared their perspectives on which of the newer Penguins might ultimately be the most important one in the playoffs.

For related reading, check out Jesse’s celebration of what he has dubbed “Matt Cooke Appreciation Day” on right now, and follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof.

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Plus, be sure to follow Colin on Twitter @colin_dunlap, read his own take on the Canadian outcry over the Cooke-Karlsson incident right here, and check out “The Colin Dunlap Radio Programme” weeknights after Pirate baseball on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.