Penguins end regular season on high note by crushing Hurricanes

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 10:30 p.m.

The Penguins know who they won't play to begin the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The New York Rangers are out of that race, but Long Island's club is a potential opponent for the Penguins.

So are the Ottawa Senators, who have opened three of the past six postseasons against the Penguins.

The Senators play at Boston on Sunday, a game postponed by the Boston Marathon bombings April 15.

A regulation loss by the Senators will send them to Consol Energy Center for Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs, which for the Penguins are likely to begin Wednesday night.

Any other Senators result, including an overtime or shootout loss, will send the Islanders to Pittsburgh for the start of Round 1.

The Penguins will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series against either the Senators or Islanders — and any opponent other than Chicago in the postseason.

An 8-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes closed the Penguins' regular season at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.

Right winger James Neal, returning from a concussion-related absence of eight games, notched a hat trick, and center Evgeni Malkin produced multiple points in a game for the first time since March 4.

The Penguins finished the season by winning 24 of the final 30 games.

Malkin and fellow former MVP center Sidney Crosby played together in only five of those contests.

Crosby, out since March 30 with a broken jaw that required surgery, is not yet cleared medically for contact. There is no timeframe for his return, though Crosby is not expected to miss much of the postseason.

Crosby's uncertain status renders Malkin even more important — a case could have been made, anyway, that the Penguins' fate would be tied directly to his production.

The 2009 playoff MVP and leading scorer, Malkin totaled 24 goals and 58 points as the Penguins went 30-14 that spring and the one prior.

He, like Crosby, missed the 2011 playoffs because of injury.

However, Malkin has amassed only eight goals and 23 points in 24 playoff games outside of 2008 and '09, and the Penguins are 10-14 in those other postseason contests, including two Round 1 defeats.

“One of the real focuses for (the Carolina) game was your individual game, being at your best going into the playoffs, and more than anyone it means a lot to (Malkin) to have a game like this, to play like this,” Bylsma said of Malkin, who scored his ninth goal and recorded two assists while attempting seven shots — shots are always a sign of his confidence level — against the Hurricanes. “In that regard it was a very big game for Evgeni Malkin.”

The Islanders have not played the Penguins in the playoffs since Round 2 in 1993. Those Islanders ended their two-year reign as Cup champions.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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