A month without a regulation loss has vaulted Pittsburgh into a tie with Philadelphia for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but with the Flyers having three games in hand, the Penguins have little margin for error if they hope to earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
A victory Sunday afternoon at Mellon Arena could go a long way toward securing the fourth seed for one of these Atlantic Division rivals as the Penguins and Flyers meet for the final time in the regular season.
"This is huge," Flyers center Danny Briere said. "... We're in control of our own destiny instead of needing some help from other teams."
Last season's conference finalists didn't look like they'd have an opportunity to see one another in this postseason as of mid-February, when the Penguins (39-26-8) were on the outside of the playoff picture.
Pittsburgh hasn't lost in regulation since Feb. 22, though, going 10-0-2 to not only insert itself into the top eight but put pressure on the Flyers (38-22-10) for home-ice advantage in the opening round - and set up a possible postseason rematch.
The Penguins won their third straight on Friday in the midst of their franchise-record eight-game homestand, getting goals from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby - the league leaders in points per game - in an easy 4-1 victory over Los Angeles.
"There's a confidence and a swagger to our team," said interim coach Dan Bylsma, who's 12-1-3 since taking over for the fired Michel Therrien. "We have every right to have that right now with our record over the past 16 games."
Beyond the usual motivation to earn home-ice advantage, Pittsburgh has even more of a reason to want an extra game at Mellon Arena if it faces Philadelphia. Including its three victories there in the East finals, the Penguins have won eight straight against the Flyers at Mellon Arena.
Though Philadelphia can't win the head-to-head tiebreaker because Pittsburgh has won four of the first five meetings, a victory Sunday would still give the Flyers a huge edge because they would be ahead two points with 11 games remaining while the Penguins only play eight more.
Philadelphia had lost to the New York Rangers and Detroit to open its four-game road trip but bounced back Friday in Buffalo.
Briere, who's missed 53 games this season due to a groin injury, had two goals - his first since Nov. 11 - to help the Flyers beat his former team 6-4.
"He really came through for us," coach John Stevens said. "We were kind of on our heels for a little bit. He scored a couple of big goals, and that's obviously great for us."
While Briere has just a goal and two assists in his last nine games against the Penguins including playoffs, Pittsburgh may want to keep close tabs on Joffrey Lupul even though he's only the Flyers' sixth-leading goal scorer. Lupul has a goal in four straight games versus the Penguins, and has 11 goals and eight assists against them dating back to the start of last season.
There's no secret, however, who Philadelphia will be looking to slow down. Malkin has nine goals and 12 assists in his last 13 regular-season games against the Flyers and Crosby has two multigoal games this season versus Philadelphia.
One of those came Feb. 21 at the Wachovia Center in the most recent meeting, as Crosby had four points and scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:45 to play in a 5-4 victory.