The Pittsburgh Penguins are in a fight to extend their 16-year streak of playoff hockey, and Saturday afternoon they will face the Detroit Red Wings, who have been a pesky foe this season.
Pittsburgh took a key step toward extending their playoff streak when they recorded a 4-1 win at home over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but there is still work to be done over its final three games of the regular season.
The Penguins (39-30-10, 88 points) sit one point behind the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders, each of whom have 89 points and occupy the final two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. All three teams have three games remaining.
Pittsburgh also needs to be wary of Buffalo, which is five points behind the Penguins with 83 points but has two games in hand.
Regardless, all Pittsburgh can do is control its end and win.
That will be easier said than done against a Detroit team that was eliminated from playoff contention Thursday night for the seventh consecutive season but has Pittsburgh's number in 2022-23.
The Red Wings have won both meetings against the Penguins, rallying from a 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime at Pittsburgh in December, then scoring a 7-4 win over the Penguins on March 28 in Detroit.
"Obviously, we've got to do a better job," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said. "We've got to find a way to have success and I know we're capable of that. I don't think they've seen our best, and so, that's what we need to bring.
"We need to bring our best each and every night. That's just the reality of where we're at right now."
Detroit (35-33-10, 80 points) lost 7-6 to Buffalo in a shootout on Thursday. But even if the Red Wings earned a win and two points that come with it, they would have been eliminated because of wins by the Panthers and Islanders.
While the Red Wings might benefit from tanking their last four games to better position themselves for the draft lottery, the team wants to finish strong in advance of the offseason.
Before this stretch of seven years without a playoff appearance, the Red Wings had qualified for the playoffs 25 years in a row.
Detroit head coach Derek Lalonde said he's been pleased with the way his team has played recently, having taken points in five of its last six games.
"I think that's a great sign," Lalonde said. "This team could've and maybe easily should've just quit. They actually went the other way. Got points in five of our last six and we are going through playoff teams playing for their lives, and a couple of the best teams in the league. That's a credit to the guys. I think it's very important going into next year."
--Field Level Media