-- First in the conference, probably not. Fourth? Most likely. Fifth? They hope not.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
go into their final three regular-season games knowing that, with a late-season rush and a lot of help, they could own home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. That wasn't considered likely when they began playing without injured stars Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
several months ago.
The Penguins trail Atlantic Division leader Philadelphia and Southeast Division frontrunner Washington by three points, 103-100, after winning five of seven and seven of 10.
Conversely, a late-season slide as they face non-contenders New Jersey on Tuesday, the New York Islanders
on Friday and Atlanta on Sunday could result in them losing the home-ice edge altogether. The Tampa Bay Lightning
, 2-1 winners over the Penguins on Thursday, began the final six days of the season in fifth place in the conference, but trailing the Penguins by only one point, 100-99.