Preview: Penguins at Red Wings
The Pittsburgh Penguins have elevated their play over the last month to remain on the fast track toward securing their 13th straight postseason appearance. The Penguins officially can punch their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday when they play the opener of a home-and-home series against the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
"I think we still have some really good opportunities in front of us," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "Until that regular season is over, we've got to continue to grab points. We've got to make the playoffs first and foremost. Then we can look at the opportunities beyond." The Penguins, who reside two points behind the second-place New York Islanders with three games to play, posted a 3-1 victory over Carolina on Sunday to improve to 10-3-2 in their last 15 contests. The Red Wings have reversed course after losing 12 of 13 (1-9-3) by winning seven of their last eight, including a season-high five in a row. Anthony Mantha recorded his first career hat trick and added a pair of assists in Detroit's 6-3 victory over Boston on Sunday.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, AT&T SportsNet-Pittsburgh, FS Detroit-Plus
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (43-25-11): Matt Cullen is showing he still has plenty left in the tank, as the 42-year-old has collected two game-winning goals and an assist in his last three contests overall while he combined with fellow fourth-liners Garrett Wilson and rookie Adam Johnson to record five points (two goals, three assists) in the first period against the Hurricanes. "They play with so much energy," Sullivan said. "Their care factor, their try factor, they're all competitive guys." Cullen will play in his 1,514th career NHL game on Tuesday to tie Steve Yzerman for 19th place on the NHL's all-time list.
ABOUT THE RED WINGS (31-38-10): Speaking of Yzerman, Tyler Bertuzzi notched three assists versus the Bruins to become the first Detroit player to record three straight three-point performances since the Hall of Famer accomplished the feat on two occasions in February 1993. The 24-year-old Bertuzzi, who earned NHL Second Star of the Week honors on Monday, has set career highs in goals (19), assists (25), points (44) and plus/minus rating (plus-12). Dylan Larkin, who also is enjoying career best totals in goals (32) and points (70), scored in a 5-2 setback versus Pittsburgh on Dec. 27 and is riding a five-game point streak (four goals, three assists).
1. Pittsburgh can also secure a postseason berth should Montreal lose to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
2. Red Wings C Andreas Athanasiou scored in the first meeting with the Penguins and has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his last eight games.
3. Pittsburgh G Matt Murray has surrendered 13 goals in his last seven starts (4-1-2).
PREDICTION: Penguins 3, Red Wings 2