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Considering the Pittsburgh Penguins were down by three goals in the third period of their latest game, they had to be happy to come away with a point despite seeing their lengthy winning streak snapped.
If they fail to get two against the Ottawa Senators, they figure to be much less enthused.
In a tight battle for playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins will try to bounce back from their first loss in nearly three weeks when they kick off an eight-game homestand Saturday afternoon against the last-place Senators.
Pittsburgh (36-26-7) reeled off seven consecutive wins from Feb. 25-March 10 to put itself right into the mix for one of the East's final four playoff spots.
The Penguins had a chance to pick up two more points Thursday in Columbus, but it looked like they'd leave empty-handed after falling behind 3-0 early in the third period. Then Sergei Gonchar, Pascal Dupuis and Max Talbot scored in a 3:25 span, and though Pittsburgh lost 4-3 in a shootout, it left with a significant point.
"After a few minutes in the third, we got (going)," coach Dan Bylsma said. "That just hit the point home that that's how we need to play. We did it for 15 (minutes) and we get a point and we get to move on."
The point lifted the Penguins into sixth place heading into the weekend, but every game from here on will be critical. While they only trail fourth-place Philadelphia by three points, they're also just two ahead of ninth-place Florida.
Pittsburgh will get a good chance to solidify a spot in the playoffs over the next three weeks. Saturday's matinee with the Senators (27-30-10) kicks off an eight-game homestand, and the Penguins are 7-1-0 in their last eight at Mellon Arena.
They've yet to play Ottawa in Pittsburgh, as the teams split two season-opening games in Sweden and the Senators won 3-2 at home on Dec. 6 behind a hat trick from Jason Spezza.
Ottawa has long been out of playoff contention, but has played well over the last five weeks. The Senators had won four straight and gone 10-4-2 since Feb. 7 heading into Boston on Thursday.
Spezza scored twice against the East-leading Bruins, but a 3-0 deficit 10 minutes into the game proved two much for Ottawa to overcome in a 5-3 loss.
"It's been a frustrating year for us," forward Chris Neil said. "When you're playing the top team in the East, they're not going to give up too many cushions like that."
There's no question the Penguins will be paying close attention to Spezza, who has nine goals and seven assists in the teams' last eight regular-season matchups.
Spezza's play has been a big reason for the Senators' regular-season dominance of Pittsburgh. They're 10-1-4 against the Penguins since the league's 2005 lockout.
Spezza was ineffective, though, as Pittsburgh swept Ottawa in the conference quarterfinals last season. He had one assist as the Senators' top line of Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson combined for two points in the series.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had two goals and six assists in the playoff series, but he's struggled against Ottawa in the regular season. The former Hart Trophy winner has one goal in 12 career regular-season games versus the Senators.
Center Evgeni Malkin, the league's leading scorer, has six goals and 10 assists in his last 11 combined regular-season and playoff meetings with Ottawa.