The nasty gash on Evgeni Malkin's left cheek said it all. The Pittsburgh Penguins are playing with the focus and win-at-all-costs intensity that's usually reserved for the playoffs.
"We control our own destiny to win the conference," Ryan Whitney said. "If we can win out, we finish first in the conference and that's been our goal all year."
Sidney Crosby set up goals by Marian Hossa and Malkin, and the Penguins moved into first place in the Eastern Conference by beating the penalty-prone New York Rangers 3-1 on Sunday. Pittsburgh, closing out an unbeaten March at home and winning its 10th in 13 games, moved ahead of idle Montreal 99-98 in the conference race with three games remaining for each team.
The Penguins need to win only once in their final three games to clinch their first division title in 10 years, and can do so as early as their rematch with the Rangers in Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
"I can't wait for about 10 days, to start this thing (the playoffs)," said Max Talbot, who scored in the final minute. "It's good that it's all (division) games like this until the end of the season. Every little play can change the game and that's playoff hockey, and that's what we're in right now."
In other NHL games, it was: Anaheim 3, Dallas 2 in a shootout; Detroit 1, Nashville 0 in overtime; Buffalo 2, Boston 1 in OT; Minnesota 3, Colorado 2 in OT; Chicago 5, Columbus 4 in a shootout; San Jose 3, Phoenix 1; and Vancouver 6, Calgary 2.
At Pittsburgh, the Rangers missed an opportunity to move into fifth place in the conference. They controlled much of the play during the final two periods, but couldn't score in the final 56 minutes as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26 of 27 shots.
Malkin, second in the league in scoring with 104 points, left briefly after being cut on the left cheek by Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky's skate with 6 minutes remaining in the second period, but returned for the third period.
"I saw that big cut, and that's really scary - it's really close to his eye," Crosby said. "But he came back and got away with only some stitches."
Dubinsky scored a power-play goal set up by Jaromir Jagr with 3:03 gone. Hossa, finally playing a full game on Crosby's line, tied it midway through the first with his 29th goal.
With Pittsburgh on a 5-on-3 power play, Malkin scored his 46th late in the first to make it 2-1 on a 40-foot slap shot off Sergei Gonchar's pass.
At Anaheim, Calif., Ducks defenseman Mathieu Schneider scored twice in regulation and Jean-Sebastien Giguere made a pair of stops in a shootout. Teemu Selanne and Chris Kunitz had goals in the shootout.
Brad Richards had the only goal for the Stars in the three-round showdown, and Giguere blocked shots by Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen.
At Detroit, Johan Franzen scored with 1:39 left in overtime to give the Red Wings the win. Dominik Hasek, returning after missing two games because of the flu, stopped 22 shots for his 81st career shutout.
Franzen's goal also ended the franchise-record 233-minute, 39-second shutout streak of Nashville's Dan Ellis, who finished with 35 saves.
Andrej Sekera scored 39 seconds into overtime to lead Buffalo over visiting Boston and keep alive the Sabres' threadbare playoff hopes.
Ryan Miller stopped 17 shots and Toni Lydman also scored for Buffalo, which would have been eliminated with a loss.
Marian Gaborik scored two goals, including the winner 3 minutes into overtime, and Minnesota celebrated clinching a playoff spot at home by beating Colorado.
Jeff Finger and Ruslan Salei scored for Colorado, which rebounded from a slow start to earn a point. The Avalanche, playing without Peter Forsberg who was scratched with a groin injury, had their three-game winning streak snapped.
At Chicago, Patrick Kane scored the only goal in a shootout, and the Blackhawks remained in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Jonathan Toews, Jason Williams and Patrick Sharp scored power-play goals for the Blackhawks, who are four points behind eighth-place Vancouver in the Western Conference with three games remaining.
Joe Thornton scored two goals in the first period, and San Jose eliminated visiting Phoenix from playoff contention.
Curtis Brown also scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves for the Sharks, who have earned a point in every game since Feb. 20 while rolling to the third Pacific Division title in franchise history.
At Vancouver, British Columbia, Trevor Linden broke open a tie game with two goals 5 minutes apart in the second period to lead the Canucks.
Matt Pettinger added a second-period goal, and Brad Isbister scored 52 seconds into the third as Vancouver snapped a four-game losing streak.