A coaching change in February appears to be just what the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to return to the playoffs.
After securing that postseason berth, the Penguins look to improve their seeding Thursday night when they host a lowly New York Islanders team coming off the most lopsided loss in franchise history.
The Penguins (43-28-9) fired coach Michel Therrien on Feb. 15, only seven months after he guided them to the Stanley Cup finals. They replaced him with Dan Bylsma on an interim basis, and the team has responded by going 16-3-4.
Pittsburgh continued its strong run Tuesday, clinching a playoff spot with a 6-4 win at Tampa Bay.
"I think we're all allowed to smile tonight," Bylsma said after the victory, which secured the Pens' third consecutive trip to the postseason.
The Penguins, who end their regular season at Montreal on Saturday, still have a chance to gain home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with two games left.
They're sixth in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the fourth-place tie between Philadelphia and Carolina. The Flyers, though, have a game in hand on both clubs.
If Pittsburgh is going to close the gap, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will likely play a major part.
Crosby scored two goals assisted by Malkin in a 1:04 span of the second period Tuesday after the duo was held without a point in the previous two games - both losses.
Malkin leads the NHL with a career-high 110 points, while Crosby is third with 101. This is the first time two Penguins have reached the 100-point mark in a season since Mario Lemieux (161), Jaromir Jagr (149) and Ron Francis (119) did it in the 1995-96 season. That team also had Petr Nedved at 99 points, while the closest Penguin to Crosby and Malkin this season is Jordan Staal at 47.
Crosby has 11 goals and 31 assists in 31 games against the Islanders (26-44-9) while Malkin has 25 points in 21 meetings, including five goals and four assists in the teams' five matchups this season.
Pittsburgh has won four of those games and is 9-2-1 in the last 12 meetings. The Penguins beat the Islanders 1-0 on Feb. 25 in the most recent matchup when Petr Sykora scored with 2:28 to play.
The Islanders, losers of seven of nine (2-6-1), will clinch the worst record in the NHL for the first time in eight years with a loss to the Penguins.
They certainly resembled that distinction Tuesday when they lost 9-0 at Carolina for the worst beating in club history.
"It was just one of those nights when it seemed nothing was going in the right direction," Islanders coach Scott Gordon said.
One of the few bright spots for the Islanders has been the play of Mark Streit. The defenseman was held without a point Tuesday, but has a career-high 16 goals and a team-leading 55 points. He's totaled four goals and five assists in the last nine games.
Streit, though, didn't get a point in the last two games against Pittsburgh.