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STAYIN’ ALIVE: Penguins Still in Playoff Hunt; Beat Preds, 4-2



The Pittsburgh Penguins did their part to keep their playoff hopes alive Monday night.

By the time they play the regular-season finale Wednesday on Long Island, they’ll know whether it was worth the effort they put into their 4-2 victory against Nashville at PPG Paints Arena.

That’s because the three teams with which they are battling for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field — Washington, Philadelphia and Detroit — will play their final games of 2023-24 Tuesday.

The Capitals and Red Wings have 89 points, one more than the Penguins, while the Flyers have 87.

Washington will play at Philadelphia Tuesday, while Detroit will visit Montreal.

The Penguins’ postseason prospects hinge on the Flyers defeating the Capitals and Montreal beating the Red Wings.

If those results go in their favor, the Penguins can qualify for the playoffs by beating the New York Islanders Wednesday.

The Penguins own the regulation victories tiebreaker against all of the clubs with which they are competing.

Their chances of overtaking the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division ended Monday night, when New York defeated New Jersey, 4-1.

Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who was pulled from their 6-4 loss to Boston Saturday after allowing three goals on 16 shots, made his 12th consecutive start and stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced.

Jansen Harkins, who hadn’t played since March 8 while recovering from hand surgery, rejoined the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup. He replaced Radim Zohorna and skated on the fourth line with Jeff Carter and Emil Bemstrom.

Michael Bunting appeared to put the Penguins in front, 1-0, with an exceptional individual effort during a power play at 6:23 of the opening period, but the goal was disallowed after the Predators challenged for goaltender interference.

Bunting was set up in front of Predators goalie Juuse Saros and pulled the rebound of a shot between his own legs before putting it past Saros. A subsequent video review determined he had interfered with Saros because, per the NHL’s Situation Room, Bunting’s “skate made contact with Juuse Saros’ stick in the crease, which impaired his ability to play his position prior to the goal.”

The Penguins, who have struggled to score once during power plays this season, did it twice while Nashville defenseman Luke Schenn was serving a delay-of-game minor, and the second one counted.

Sidney Crosby got it at 7:02, lunging to swat in a Bunting rebound that had been left uncovered in the crease. The second assist on the goal, Crosby’s 42nd of the season, was Bryan Rust’s 200th in the NHL.

The Penguins, so often guilty of giving up a goal shortly after they score one, continued to carry the play, and Erik Karlsson put them up by two at 13:50, when he beat Saros with a slap shot from the right point for his 11th of the season.

Crosby and Marcus Pettersson got the assists.

The Penguins had another man-advantage goal taken away by a video review at 16:20, after Kris Letang threw a wrist shot past Saros from along the right-wing boards while Colton Sissons was in the penalty box for tripping.

Nashville challenged that Lars Eller, who had his back to Saros, had interfered with him, and after a lengthy delay, that was the official ruling.

The Penguins finished the period with a 20-5 edge in shots, a fairly accurate reflection of one of their most dominant 20-minute performances of the season.

Not surprisingly, Nashville regrouped during the intermission and controlled play for much of the opening half of the second period.

Gustav Nyqvist cut the Penguins’ lead to 2-1 at 7:24, putting a loose puck between Nedeljkovic’s legs from just outside the crease.

The Pittsburgh Penguins got that one back just 57 seconds later, however, as Reilly Smith took a feed from Eller and put a shot past Saros from above the right hash. Letang received the second assist on that goal, Smith’s 13th of the season and first in 14 games.

Filip Forsberg countered for the Predators at 17:36, blowing a shot by Nedeljkovic from just above the right dot at 17:36 for his 48th of the season.

Former Penguins winger Jason Zucker was sent off for hooking at 18:06 and the Penguins maintained good pressure while he was in the penalty box, but failed to manufacture a goal.

The Penguins got an insurance goal from a somewhat unlikely source, Bemstrom, at 2:42 of the third, as he took a feed from Karlsson, who was above the right circle, and hammered a shot past Saros from the left dot.

The goal was Bemstrom’s eighth of the season and first in seven games. Pettersson received the second assist.

The Predators got their first chance with the extra man when Smith was penalized for hooking at 7:09, but did not threaten to score.

After the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins called off the practice that had been scheduled for Tuesday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.