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The New Jersey Devils are hardly playing like a team that had been in contention for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, are poised to go into the postseason as one of the league's hottest teams.
The Penguins close an eight-game homestand and Sidney Crosby looks to extend a 15-game point streak Wednesday when they host the Devils, who are looking to avoid their longest skid in more than eight years.
Crosby scored the go-ahead goal with 10:04 remaining in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday, extending the NHL's longest active point streak to 14 games. He has eight goals and 17 assists during that stretch, which goes back to Feb. 16.
"He's a go-to guy," said teammate Max Talbot, who had a goal and an assist. "He always wants those big goals, and he got it again. It's definitely two huge points for us."
Crosby's latest effort lifted the Penguins (41-27-8) to their fifth win in six games, part of a 12-1-2 stretch since Feb. 25. They've moved into sixth place in the East, one point back of Carolina and two behind fourth-place Philadelphia for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Penguins, who went 6-1-2 to end last season when they reached the Stanley Cup finals, play four of their final six games on the road.
"I think as a team we've been playing well, and we just need to continue playing well in the last six games and into the playoffs," left wing Ruslan Fedotenko said. "That's the most important thing, to get on kind of a hot streak going into the playoffs."
While the Penguins appear to be surging toward the postseason, New Jersey (47-25-4) is slumping despite having already clinched a playoff spot.
The Devils have dropped five straight late in the season for a second consecutive year - they went on to lose in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.
"This group tried to turn a switch on last year. It didn't work," coach Bruce Sutter said. "They can say they're a different group, but a lot of the personnel is still the same.
"You get to a point where you say, 'Where is our commitment? Where is our compete level?"
The last time the Devils went winless in a six-game span was in November 2001, and they haven't lost six in a row since November 2000.
Before this 0-4-1 skid began, New Jersey was alone in second place in the East and within three points of conference-leading Boston. Now the No. 1 seed is nearly out of reach for the Devils and they've dropped to third place, one point behind Washington.
Martin Brodeur has been in net for all five losses, giving up 16 goals, after going 9-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average in 10 starts following his return from an elbow injury that caused him to miss 50 games.
"It's not fun," Brodeur said after Monday's 3-0 loss to the Rangers. "It's the time of the year you need to play well, to win games, to advance and to feel good about yourself. Right now, it's not the case for us. We're doubting how we do stuff out there. We have six games left and we have to find a way to get through this."
Now Brodeur hopes to cool off Crosby, who has four goals and two assists versus the Devils this season - all in two games. Pittsburgh is 2-1-2 against New Jersey this season.