Penguins notebook: Buffalo's win delays playoff clinching
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The Penguins can clinch a playoff spot with a win or an overtime or shootout loss tonight when Nashville visits Consol Energy Center.
Their magic number for securing a postseason berth is one in conjunction with Buffalo -- the next point the Penguins earn or the Sabres fail to earn guarantees that the Penguins will finish among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. They missed out on a chance to clinch Wednesday night when Buffalo beat Montreal, 3-0.
Of course, simply qualifying for the playoffs hasn't been the big-picture focus for the Penguins, who have 96 points and are trying to overtake the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
If they can do that, they will earn the top seed in the conference and home-ice advantage at least through the conference final, should they advance that far.
The Rangers beat Detroit, 2-1, Wednesday and are three points ahead of the Penguins, who have a game in hand. New York plays April 5 at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins winger Steve Sullivan was hurt most of time he shared with Alexander Radulov in Nashville, but Sullivan is among those who figures the Predators could add a whole new dimension with Radulov's return.
"He's a really skilled hockey player, really good one-on-one," Sullivan said. "He goes to the areas you need to go to to score goals. He's a true talent, and it's going to be big for Nashville to get him back."
Nashville re-introduced the high-scoring forward, who skipped out on his NHL contract after 2007-08 (26 goals, 58 points in 81 games as a 21-year-old) and since has played in the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia.
The Predators will decide after the game-day skate whether Radulov will play tonight against the Penguins.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said his team has gotten scouting reports from Sullivan and general manager Ray Shero. Shero formerly was assistant general manager with Nashville, which made Radulov the 15th overall pick in the 2004 NHL draft.
"What I do know is he's arguably the best player outside of the NHL that could be coming back and playing as soon as [tonight] and playing at the Consol for a team that is a pretty good team right now already," Bylsma said.
Nashville, with 92 points, was tied for fifth in the NHL before games Wednesday, four points behind the Penguins. And that was with leading scorer Martin Erat tied for 40th in the NHL with 57 points but with strong goaltending from Pekka Rinne.
"For them it can be a great boost to getting an offensive talent, especially for a team that plays so well structurally, plays such a good game on their back end and has [strong] goaltending," Bylsma said.
"It's a little exciting to see what we'll see if we do get to see Radulov [tonight]."
Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer with 93 points, was given a maintenance day Wednesday. He has not, as some might have worried, taken games off since fellow star center Sidney Crosby returned.
In the past four games with both in the lineup, Malkin has five goals, nine points. That includes a five-point night Tuesday in an 8-4 win against Winnipeg.
"It's not true for sure," Malkin said of the perception that he plays better without Crosby in the lineup. "I don't change my game. I'm just trying to play 100 percent every game.
"I like to play with Sid. He gave me two assists [Tuesday]. We know how to play with each other. We move the puck. The power play is better when Sid comes back."
Malkin's right winger, James Neal, has played in just 12 games with Malkin and Crosby. They were both hurt when Neal was acquired from Dallas in February 2011, and Crosby has missed most of this season.
Neal detects no dip in Malkin's game regardless of who is healthy.
"I heard that, but I definitely haven't seen that," Neal said. "Ever since day one, he's been unbelievable to play with. He's a guy that's helped me out a ton. He's a special player."
Backup goaltender Brent Johnson, who has an undisclosed injury, skated with three coaches before practice. ... This is the Penguins' final game against a Western Conference team. They are 12-2-3 against the West. Nashville is 7-6-3 against the East.