The push to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is in high gear with less than a month left in the regular season. The stakes have been raised and the games are of greater magnitude.
Here are the CFP Keys to Success for teams either holding on to precious playoff positions or trying to secure one:
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be without center Evgeni Malkin for 6-8 weeks, return home to face the New York Islanders on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNO, SNW, SNP, MSG+, ROOT, NHL.TV) following a four-game road trip.
The Penguins, after a 5-3 win against the New York Rangers on Sunday, hold the top wild card out of the Eastern Conference, but the key to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 10th consecutive season is finding a way to win without Malkin, who is second on the team with 58 points. Pittsburgh went 5-4-1 in 10 games this season when Malkin was sidelined from Feb. 5-24, and is 71-45-9 in 125 games he's missed with an injury.
Sidney Crosby continues to sizzle despite Malkin's absence. The Penguins captain takes an eight-game point streak (four goals, nine assists), his second longest this season, into the game Tuesday. Crosby's first-period assist against the Rangers made him the third player (Joe Thornton, Tyler Seguin) to have two point streaks of eight or more games this season. Crosby, who is one goal from reaching 30 for the seventh time in his NHL career, needs to keep it up to help get the Penguins into the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers have won six of their past eight games and are three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. The Flyers face a key stretch this week when they host the Red Wings on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, FS-D, CSN-PH) before playing at the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, SN1).
"We know we're in a push for a playoff spot," forward Ryan White told Philly.com after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday. ".... We have to play desperate hockey and find a way to win games."
While the Flyers need to improve their 2-7 record in shootouts, rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is the biggest reason they're in the thick of the chase. Gostisbehere, 22, leads all rookie defensemen in goals (15), assists (23) and points (38), and is fifth in the NHL among rookies despite playing 20 fewer games than the leaders. He also set new NHL rookie defensemen records for overtime goals (four) and consecutive games with a point (15).
A WILD RACE
It's a two-team race between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. The teams are tied with 74 points but the Wild have a game in hand. Minnesota faces the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-N, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV) in the second of a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference opponents. Minnesota is 9-5-0, including 6-2-0 on the road, under interim coach John Torchetti. The power play has been a major component in getting the Wild back in the hunt by converting in a franchise-record 13 straight road games.
Getting forward Mikael Granlund going is key to the Wild's playoff hopes. Granlund, 24, scored two goals in a game for the second time in his NHL career in a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to reach 10 goals in an NHL season for the first time. Consistency is crucial for Granlund, who has three points in his past eight games and whom Torchetti is imploring to have a shoot-first mentality.
The Avalanche began a four-game trip through Western Canada with a 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Colorado, which had a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, is now 23-6-2 this season when leading after the second period.
"I think when you go into the third period up a goal, it doesn't matter what happened in the second," forward Matt Duchene said. "You've got to reset and come back out. It has been a problem for our team, closing out games, and [Saturday] was no different."
The Avalanche visit the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; ALT, SNP, NHL.TV).
"As much as it [stinks], we've got some hockey left to play, and we're still in this playoff race, so we've got to put it behind us as fast as we can and move on," forward Blake Comeau said.