Despite being win away from a playoff berth, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven't gotten any production from NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin in the last two games. They may not need much from the star center, however, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With Malkin in a scoring drought, the Penguins look to clinch their third straight postseason appearance when they face the lowly Lightning on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh (42-28-9) is coming off its second regulation defeat in 18 games, missing a chance to secure a playoff spot with a 4-2 loss to Florida on Sunday night.
"It would have been nice, but every team is desperate," said Penguins center Sidney Crosby, whose teammates may have been tired after falling 3-2 in overtime to Carolina the previous evening.
A win Tuesday would ensure that the ninth-place Panthers couldn't catch the Penguins, who can still finish as high as fourth in the Eastern Conference. Though Florida would be able to match Pittsburgh in points, it would fall short in victories - the second tiebreaker - even if it wins out.
The Penguins host the New York Islanders on Thursday night before concluding the regular season Saturday night at Montreal, and they're hoping Malkin will break out of his mini-slump shortly.
Malkin has 30 goals and 69 assists on the season, but has been held off the scoresheet in two straight games. He hasn't gone without a point in three consecutive contests since the final three games of his rookie season of 2006-07.
Malkin has two goals and two assists in his last two games against Tampa Bay (24-37-18). The Penguins lead the season series 2-1-0, allowing six goals.
Tampa Bay has struggled to generate offense recently, recording one or no goals in three of its last four games. The Lightning lost their last home game 3-0 to Ottawa and fell 3-1 on Saturday night to an Islanders team that's one of the worst in the league defensively.
Tampa Bay has dropped six straight (0-4-2) and is short-handed due to injuries, but the East's second-worst team continues to play hard.
"For me personally, it's the last year of my contract, so it's make or break time for me," goaltender Mike McKenna said. "We at least show heart and courage out there. We play hard."
McKenna struggled in his only game against the Penguins, making 31 saves in Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime loss Feb. 4.
Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier had a goal and an assist in that game, but is out the rest of the way after undergoing surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his right wrist Friday.
Matt Pettinger had Tampa Bay's only goal versus the Islanders. Martin St. Louis leads the Lightning with 78 points (29 goals, 49 assists), but he's been held without one in two of his last three games against the Penguins and three of his last four overall.
Tampa Bay hosts Washington on Thursday night before finishing the season against Atlanta on Saturday night.