OTTAWA – The Pittsburgh Penguins can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and put a huge dent in the Ottawa Senators' hopes with a win in regulation at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; ROOT, RDS, TSN5).
The Senators trail the Penguins, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings by two points in the Eastern Conference standings. The Senators are battling for third place in the Atlantic Division and the two wild cards into the playoffs.
The Senators are at disadvantage. In addition to trailing the other teams, they do not hold a tiebreaker against any of them. Even if the Senators win their three remaining games, they would need at least one of the Red Wings, Bruins and Penguins to earn no more than three points in their remaining three games to make the playoffs.
"It's a bigger game for us than it is for them, in my eyes," Senators wing Clarke MacArthur said.
The Senators were 14 points out of a playoff position Feb. 10, but are 20-4-4 since.
"We had put a lot of work in and our record was still kind of floating around the same," MacArthur said. "I don't know if it's just the point where the hockey gods start to take care of you or what. We definitely put in a lot of work this year and to have the chance we have right now is all you can ask for."
Goalie Andrew Hammond will start for the Senators. "The Hamburglar" is 17-1-2 as a starter in the NHL and is coming off a 36-save performance in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.
"[The Penguins] are a team that's fighting to stay in the playoffs and we're fighting to catch them," Hammond said. "They have two of the elite players in the game and it's another challenge for us.
"We've proven ourselves. We're not afraid of adversity. We know we're going to face it in different ways. Each time we've been met with it, the challenge that's been presented, we've met (it). It's something that maybe this group thrives on a little bit. We've had our backs against the wall for probably 20 games now and we've been playing our best hockey. I think that's a good sign."
The Penguins have lost three straight games and are 3-8-1 in their past 12. They have scored 20 goals in that stretch.
"The last couple of games I think we've done a lot of good things," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You look at Columbus [a 5-3 loss] we had probably a bad span of two, three minutes that changed the whole momentum of the game. In Philly [a 4-1 loss] we deserved a lot better. We've got to play the same way and give ourselves a chance to win."
The Penguins find themselves in an unaccustomed position. Since last missing the playoffs in 2005, they haven't finished lower than second in their division.
"You see a lot of teams that are fighting here right down to the end and there's nothing wrong with that. Every year is different and brings on different challenges," Crosby said. "A lot of teams would like to be in this position. A lot of teams are out now and playing down their games here. It's a good challenge for us especially with everything we've been through this year to be in this situation we should be excited.
"We should expect a desperate hockey team and it should be very similar to our mindset."
Penguins coach Mike Johnston, like Crosby, said he saw some good things in the losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.
"We've got to build off the last two games," he said. "We thought we had a good game in Columbus. We had a good game and did a lot of good things in Philly, build off those. Really, when you're coming in here to Ottawa, this is an exciting time. Everybody is looking forward. It's an exciting game tonight."
Here are the projected lineups:
David Perron – Sidney Crosby – Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz – Evgeni Malkin – Blake Comeau
Daniel Winnik – Brandon Sutter – Beau Bennett
Nick Spaling – Maxim Lapierre – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Ben Lovejoy
Rob Scuderi – Derrick Pouliot
Ian Cole – Taylor Chorney
Injured: Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Pascal Dupuis (blood clots), Olli Maatta (illness), Steve Downie (upper body)
Clarke MacArthur– Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Zack Smith – Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Erik Condra – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Curtis Lazar
Mike Hoffman – David Legwand – Alex Chiasson
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Patrick Wiercioch- Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Eric Gryba
Scratched: Colin Greening, Jared Cowen
Injured: Robin Lehner (concussion), Chris Phillips (back), Chris Neil (thumb), Milan Michalek (upper body), Matt Puempel (ankle)
Status report: Ehrhoff is skating in Pittsburgh and Johnston said there is a possibility he could play this weekend… Letang is riding a bike, but no timetable has been set for his return. Johnston said he could be available for the playoffs if the Penguins make it ... Cameron will play the same lineup for the fifth game in a row … Neil has been practicing, but no date has been set for his return … Michalek had a setback in his return from injury, said Cameron, and no timetable has been set for his return.
Who's hot: Stone has four goals and four assists in his past six games … MacArthur has two goals and three assists in his past four games … Turris has a goal and four assists in his past three games … Cole has five assists in his past four games … Sutter has two goals in his past two games.