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A lot to play for in final 2 games

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens have successfully locked up the No. 2 seed in the Metro Division and own home-ice advantage in their First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets starting next week.

But before the Pens can begin their playoff run and Stanley Cup title defense, there are still two games remaining on the regular-season schedule. 

And the Pens still have plenty to play for in their final two contests (at Toronto Saturday, at NY Rangers Sunday), even if the results won't matter in the overall playoff picture.

"We aren't fighting for our lives out there, which is a good thing," defenseman Trevor Daley said. "It's not as meaningful, but it's important to get ready and be ready for next week."

The Pens would also like to use the final two games as a chance to get some injured players into the lineup. Daley himself just returned to the ice in Thursday's 7-4 win in New Jersey after missing 20 games with a knee injury.

Center Evgeni Malkin (shoulder, 11 games missed) and defenseman Olli Maatta (hand, 24) are on the cusp of returning. They've undergone two days of limited contact and would like to play before the postseason begins.

"We'll see how it goes," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're taking it each day at a time. (Malkin) looked really strong out there today. He's been skating a number of days in a row. Everything looks encouraging, but we'll take each day as it comes."

Maatta knows that playing in a regular-season game prior to the postseason will help him adjust to the speed of the game before jumping into the intensity of playoff hockey.

"I think that would be a big advantage having a game underneath your belt," he said, "not hopping right into the fire."

Right now the coaching staff is not only weighing their options for getting injured players back into the lineup, but also the possibility of giving other players a game off to rest and recuperate from the bumps and bruises of a long season.

While the team has a strategy to deal with those issues, Sullivan wasn't revealing his plans.

"There's a balance between making sure you give guys sufficient rest, at the same time you don't want to have them all off so long that there's a significant amount of time between the playoffs and the last time they played in game action," Sullivan said. "That's the balance. We've talked as a staff already this morning, on the plane last night. We've sketched out a game plan that we think is best for our team."

For other players, the last two games are a chance to fine-tune their game and enter the playoffs playing at a high level. And that starts against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

"We need to be ready and be focused," Malkin said. "It'll be a good game tomorrow, but we're not going to just give Toronto two points. We need to play hard every game before playoffs."

"Next week is very important, but it's also important to be playing good hockey going into next week," Daley said. "You don't want to go out there and take it easy. That's just going to cause something bad to happen. We want to be firing on all cylinders going in."

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