Despite the injuries, scoring slumps and extended losing streaks, the Colorado Avalanche were in a position to move into first place in the Central Division on Wednesday night.
But they ran into a desperate Pittsburgh team and lost 5-2 to end a six-game winning streak.
Colorado (41-23-6, 88 points) has a chance to start a new winning one when it hosts the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night.
Arizona (27-33-12, 66 points) has not officially been eliminated from the postseason but it is teetering on the edge. The young Coyotes are in rebuild mode and taking their lumps along the way.
Wednesday night they had to face Connor McDavid, and the Edmonton Oilers center got his 60th goal of the season in dramatic fashion with an overtime winner in a 4-3 Oilers victory.
Now Arizona has to face another All-Star center in Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, who is playing his best hockey of the season. That challenge doesn't faze the Coyotes.
"Our guys never quit, they kept going, they have a lot of character, they play for each other," Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said after the Edmonton defeat. "There are a lot of guys who are willing to suffer for each other and there is a huge brotherhood in that room."
Arizona took Edmonton to overtime despite not having forwards Zack Kassian and Brett Ritchie in the lineup. Both were out with upper-body injuries and are listed as day-to-day.
The Coyotes do have Clayton Keller, and he is playing well. He had two goals Wednesday night to extend his point streak to 10 games, a career high. He has nine goals and 10 assists in that stretch.
MacKinnon is also riding a 10-game point streak (six goals, 11 assists) -- and at least one point in 18 straight home games -- and has 90 points on the season. He has a chance for his first 100-point regular season but Colorado's goals are bigger than personal achievements.
The reigning champions are on a mission to win the division despite the loss to the Penguins.
Colorado has a schedule that gives it a chance to overtake Dallas and Minnesota for the top. Friday's game with the Coyotes is the first of a back-to-back between the teams, with the venue shifting to Arizona on Sunday afternoon.
The teams split the first two games, with the Coyotes winning 6-3 at home on Dec. 27 and losing in Denver 3-2 in overtime on March 11.
The Avalanche have two games each against struggling Anaheim and San Jose, while also hosting the Dallas Stars and Minnesota as they try to reach their goal.
"Twelve games left, sitting out of the spot by one point," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "There's advantages to finishing first, and that's what we're trying to track down."
The Avalanche are trying to get back to health in the final dozen games. Cale Makar has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, and Evan Rodrigues (concussion protocol) missed Wednesday's game.
There is hope that defensemen Erik Johnson (broken ankle) and Josh Manson (lower body) will return by the end of March, and an outside chance captain Gabriel Landeskog (knee) can make his season debut before the finale at Nashville on April 14.
--Field Level Media