The Pittsburgh Penguins are missing some big names, but they're still on track for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed as a few new ones get more acclimated to the team.
The Penguins continue a three-game road trip Thursday night with a matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, winners in five of six at home.
Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby remains out indefinitely after taking a puck to the face and breaking his jaw March 30. Another one of the team's top scorers, James Neal, is not traveling with the team after suffering a concussion when he was elbowed in the head by the New York Rangers' Michael Del Zotto on Friday.
Defenseman Kris Letang, though, might come back from a lower-body injury in the next two games. Fellow defenseman Paul Martin is not expected to return until the playoffs because of a broken bone in his hand.
Despite those absences, Pittsburgh (30-10-0) has won its past two games and wrapped up its first Atlantic Division title since 2007-08 with a 5-3 comeback victory over Carolina on Tuesday. With their team trailing by a goal early in the third period, Beau Bennett and Evgeni Malkin scored 13 seconds apart.
With the win, Pittsburgh is guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 seed, but it's striving for more.
"We still got a ways to go, so we want to keep going. We don't want to let our foot off the gas pedal," defenseman Brooks Oprik said. "We want to finish strong and carry that into the playoffs."
In his fifth game since coming over from Calgary, veteran forward Jarome Iginla assisted on Malkin's go-ahead goal. Brenden Morrow scored his first with Pittsburgh since a March 24 trade with Dallas.
"I'm starting to get really comfortable here," Morrow said.
Morrow will try to keep getting in sync with his new teammates against the Lightning (17-20-2), who need a big surge and likely some help to earn a postseason berth. Tampa Bay, 13th in the East, has helped itself by going 5-0-1 in its last six home games.
In their return from a 1-2-0 road trip, the Lightning used Steven Stamkos' late power-play goal to beat Ottawa 3-2 on Tuesday.
"The odds are against us, and they know what's going on," coach Jon Cooper said. "They have every reason to sit here and say, this isn't going to work. I don't have to go down and block a shot. I don't have to go to the net. But, they're not doing that."
Stamkos has totaled three goals and two assists in this season's two matchups with the Penguins, but Tampa Bay lost both and has dropped five straight in the series. Pittsburgh used three third-period goals for a 4-3 win March 4 and jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in a 5-3 victory Feb. 24.
Malkin missed that game but had a goal and an assist in the win in March. He has nine goals and four assists over his past four matchups with the Lightning, while Letang has seven points in his last four against them.
Stamkos trails the injured Crosby by six points for the NHL points lead, and Martin St. Louis is seven back.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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