Season series: Third of four meetings this season, with the finale taking place back at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. The teams split a pair of games in Pittsburgh, with Clarke MacArthur scoring twice to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win on Oct. 13, and the Penguins getting a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby and Mark Letestu to claim a 5-2 victory on Dec. 8.
Big story: While the Penguins wheel and deal trying to reassemble their roster in the wake of Crosby's concussion and a season-ending knee injury to Evgeni Malkin, the Maple Leafs have climbed back to within six points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with their recent hot streak.
Penguins: The return of Alex Kovalev to a Pittsburgh uniform on Friday following his acquisition in a trade with Ottawa the day before was overshadowed by a 4-1 loss in Carolina. The veteran of 18 NHL seasons, who took No. 72 because Craig Adams already wears his customary No. 27, was held without a shot and took a pair of minor penalties in 19 minutes of ice time. Pascal Dupuis scored the only Penguins goal, while Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled midway through the second period after allowing three goals on 11 shots.
"We got going in the second period with the power-play opportunities and had a couple of chances," coach Dan Bylsma said. "(But Carolina goalie Cam) Ward came up with the saves, especially at that early part of the second when we were trying to make a push with our power play."
Maple Leafs: Each of the last five games for Toronto has been decided by a single goal, and the Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 in those contests. They've won low-scoring battles, like Tuesday's 2-1 win over the Islanders, and more offensive affairs, such as Thursday's 5-4 victory over the Northeast Division-rival Canadiens. After the Leafs fell behind a goal in the first period, Phil Kessel tallied twice to put them in front. With the game tied in the second, Tyler Bozak netted the first of his two goals, putting Toronto ahead to stay.
"Psychologically it's big to get to .500, but we're not satisfied with that," coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to keep pushing.
"It was kind of an ugly game. Both teams were upset with the way the calls were going, icings and things like that. But we hung in there."
Who's hot: Kessel has 6 goals in his last five games for the Maple Leafs. Goalie James Reimer is 5-0-2 in his last seven starts with a .934 save percentage.
Injury report: Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin missed Friday's game with an upper-body injury. Fellow blueliner Brooks Oprik was recently sidelined with a broken finger expected to cost him 4-6 weeks. Crosby and Malkin are the big names on injured reserve, but also on that list are forwards Letestu (knee), Mike Comrie (hip), Arron Asham (concussion), Chris Kunitz (lower body), Eric Tangradi (concussion) and Nick Johnson (upper body).
Toronto goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (lower body) is expected to be available Saturday. Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is out indefinitely following a heart procedure. Forward Colton Orr (concussion) is on injured reserve.
Stat pack: Defenseman Kris Letang (8-37-45) leads active Penguins in scoring with Crosby sidelined. … Maple Leafs defenseman Brett Lebda scored Thursday for his first goal in 85 games, dating back to Oct. 22, 2009. He also added an assist.
Puck drop: Toronto had been looking for consistent goaltending from Giguere and Gustavsson for the first two-thirds of the season -- now Reimer (10-4-2, 2.24 goals-against average, .931 save percentage) is providing it, and all of a sudden the postseason seems like a possibility again.
"It's really close," said Reimer, a winner in his first start at the Bell Centre in Montreal. "A month and a half ago it looked bleak and it looked like we wouldn't make it."