The Pittsburgh Penguins lost 1-0 on the road in Atlanta on Saturday night, helping to ensure that the defending Stanley Cup champions will begin the playoffs against Ottawa next week.

With New Jersey romping to a 7-1 win over the New York Islanders, the Penguins cannot catch the Devils atop the Atlantic Division even though both teams play again on Sunday.

New Jersey holds the tiebreaker by virtue of winning all six encounters with Pittsburgh this season.

"It's disappointing," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We hoped to win and get second place. We'll have to play a good game [Sunday] and start focusing on the playoffs."

The Penguins will be locked into the fourth seed and host the Senators, making it three times in four seasons the teams have met in the playoffs.

Bryan Little scored the only goal of Saturday's game, beating Marc-Andre Fleury from a scramble midway through the second.

Johan Hedberg made 33 saves for the shutout in Atlanta's final game of the season. The veteran Finnish goalie earned his 14th career shutout.

The Thrashers dropped a 4-3 overtime game to Pittsburgh exactly one week earlier, with Hedberg allowing a soft winning goal that essentially killed Atlanta's playoff hopes.

The Thrashers will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

Pittsburgh had won eight straight over the Thrashers but appeared to lose focus after Crosby objected to a check into the boards by Evander Kane midway through the first period. Crosby was penalized for cross-checking Kane at 10:24.

"If they take exception to who gets hit out there, does that mean you are supposed to start a fight?" Thrashers coach Anderson said. "I don't get it. Crosby is so great for this game, but when you're always around the puck, you're going to get hit a little bit. Every time he gets body checked, does that mean somebody is going to get attacked?"

Kane was behind Pittsburgh's net over four minutes later when Michael Rupp of the Penguins was given a 10-minute misconduct and teammate Eric Godard was called for roughing after a scrum.

Kane then took Pittsburgh agitator Matt Cooke out of the game.

Cooke elbowed Kane 1:59 into the second. After both players took off their gloves near centre ice, the 18-year-old Kane landed two hard right punches to Cooke's face.

A stretcher was brought out but Cooke left under his own power.

"He left the ice saying he was fine and he continues to be that way now," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He obviously will go through a battery of [concussion] tests."

Cooke escaped punishment from the NHL on March 6 for a hit to the head on Marc Savard. The Boston centre left on a stretcher with a concussion and hasn't been able to exercise since.

"Cooke came at an 18-year-old," Anderson said of Kane. "What goes around, comes around. That's all I can tell you."

Crosby had three shots on net in a bid to get 50 goals for the first time in his career. Crosby will get one more chance on Sunday, against a New York Islanders team he has had success against this season.

Slava Kozlov was in the lineup for Atlanta after missing 21 of the previous 23 games as a healthy scratch. It was Kozlov's 1,182nd and conceivably last NHL game.

The Russian will turn 38 in the off-season.

With files from CBCSports.ca