The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers face each other twice more in the final week of the regular season, but they may be seeing more of each other shortly after that.
They'll face off Wednesday night at Mellon Arena in what could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.
Pittsburgh (46-26-8) is battling Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference, while Philadelphia (40-28-11) is trying to hold on to one of the final postseason berths. The Pens and Flyers play their final regular-season game Sunday in Philadelphia, and could meet again in the quarterfinals.
The Penguins can clinch the Atlantic Division with a win in this contest or if New Jersey gets one or no points versus Boston, while the Flyers will reach the postseason with a win in this contest and if Carolina gets no points against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Through the first half of the season series, the Flyers had the upper hand, winning all four games by a 20-8 margin. The Penguins outscored their in-state rivals 11-4 in two victories after that, including a 7-1 win March 16.
|The Pittsburgh Penguins can win the Atlantic Division with a win or a Devils loss tonight, while the Philadelphia Flyers are hoping to fight off a number of teams and claim one of the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Since that loss, though, the Flyers are 5-0-1, including a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. Antero Niittymaki stopped all three Isles shooters and Daniel Briere scored the lone goal in the tiebreaker.
Despite the recent surge, Mike Knuble told the Flyers' official Web site that the team's postseason hopes could hinge on one big play.
"The amazing thing is we just can't pull away," he said. "We're thankful to be where we're at and it's just going to come down to the last possible minute, that last clutch goal or that last big save. That will be the season, basically."
Niittymaki is 0-5-1 with a 5.17 goals-against average in his last seven games against the Penguins. That means the Flyers may go with Martin Biron, 3-0-1 with a 2.14 GAA in four starts since March 21.
Biron, though, hasn't been much better when facing the Penguins. He was pulled after stopping only five of eight shots in the March 16 loss, and is 3-7-2 with one tie and a 3.56 GAA in 13 starts in Pittsburgh.
The Flyers will have forward R.J. Umberger back in the lineup Wednesday after he missed six games with a sprained knee suffered in the most recent loss to the Penguins. Umberger, a Pittsburgh native, had six goals and four assists in his last three contests against his hometown team before the injury.
He's tied with Jeff Carter for fourth on the Flyers with a career-best 49 points.
Pittsburgh squandered a chance to clinch its first division title in 10 years Monday, falling 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers. Maxime Talbot tied the game midway through the third period, but Marc-Andre Fleury allowed Chris Drury's power-play goal 1:46 into overtime.
"We would have liked to (have clinched)," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "It's tight hockey from here on in."
Crosby had four assists in his first three games against Philadelphia this season before missing 28 contests with an ankle injury. He has six goals and 11 assists in nine career home games versus the Flyers.
Evgeni Malkin had his second four-point game of the season against the Flyers last month. With 104 points, he trails only Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.
Malkin, last season's Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, has 13 assists and 22 points against Philadelphia - his highest totals in both categories against any team.