The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets know they can't continue to struggle for much longer if they want to have any chance of making the playoffs.
After snapping a three-game losing streak, the Penguins look to hand the Blue Jackets their third straight defeat Friday night as the teams meet for the first time since 2006.
Pittsburgh (25-23-5) and Columbus (24-22-5) are just below the playoff cutoff with about two months remaining in the regular season. The defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins are chasing eighth-place Florida, while the Blue Jackets are one of seven teams in contention for the final five playoff spots in the West.
These teams, meeting for the first time since Pittsburgh won 5-3 at home Oct. 21, 2006, would be in much better position if they hadn't played poorly over the last week.
Pittsburgh ended its damaging slide Wednesday night, beating Tampa Bay 4-3 in overtime.
"You always look back at seasons, and turning points, and hopefully this is one for us," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It was a big character builder for everyone."
Columbus, meanwhile, has lost two straight and four of six (2-3-1).
"We just have to come back to work," Blue Jackets center Michael Peca said. "I'm sure we'll look at some tape or we'll have some discussions about areas of the game that need to get stronger in order for us to win hockey games, or at least put us into positions to win hockey games again."
The Penguins, who have disappointed after coming within two games of winning the Stanley Cup last spring, showed some fight versus the Lightning. Pittsburgh was down by three early in the third, but Evgeni Malkin finished a rally with 15.5 seconds left in OT with his second goal of the game.
Malkin has 24 goals and leads the league with 79 points. He has nine goals and 10 assists in his last 13 games.
Malkin scored and Crosby added an assist in Pittsburgh's last matchup with Columbus.
The Blue Jackets will need a strong performance in net to keep the Penguins stars in check, and Steve Mason is likely to get his first start against Pittsburgh. The rookie has started 19 straight games despite battling mononucleosis.
Mason, who leads the league with a 2.06 goals-against average and seven shutouts, was just diagnosed with the illness that the Columbus medical staff believe he's had for about a month.
Mason has struggled in two games since shutting out Ottawa last Friday, allowing six goals. He finished with 18 saves in a 4-2 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday night.
Columbus couldn't stop the Blues even though its blue line got a boost, with Rostislav Klesla playing his first game since breaking his foot Jan. 3 against St. Louis. He missed 31 of the Blue Jackets' first 50 games due to various injuries.
Center Nikita Filatov was activated off injured reserve Thursday, but Columbus assigned him to the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse. The 18-year-old Filatov, the sixth pick in last summer's draft, has four goals in eight games.