PITTSBURGH (AP) -This could be a troubling sign for Martin Brodeur, the Devils and the rest of the Eastern Conference. The more the Pittsburgh Penguins keep winning at home, the more likely it becomes they'll be playing there frequently once the playoffs start.
The Penguins kept their late-season surge going, finishing up the most productive homestand in franchise history by roughing up Brodeur and the Devils during a 6-1 victory Wednesday night that extended New Jersey's losing streak to six games.
"They're a different team," Devils coach Brent Sutter said.
Last season's Eastern Conference champions were in 10th place in the East only six weeks ago, but the Penguins have reversed themselves by going 15-2-3 under interim coach Dan Bylsma and 6-1-1 during the longest and best homestand they've ever enjoyed.
"Everyone's stepped up their game collectively and, with the situation that we were in, the scenario, that's what we needed," said Sidney Crosby, who had a goal and an assist to close to within a point of his third career 100-point season.
Not that long ago, it would have seemed nonsensical to suggest the Penguins might enjoy home-ice advantage for at least one round of the playoffs, or that New Jersey might not finish first or second in the East.
Now, after going 13-1-2 since Feb. 25, the Penguins are tied in points with Philadelphia for the fourth spot and home-ice advantage for at least the first round.
"We talked about not spending too much time looking behind us, our goal is looking ahead of us and trying to catch Philly," defenseman Mark Eaton said.
For a change against New Jersey, which won three of the first five games in the season series, this one came easily for the Penguins.
Matt Cooke and Bill Guerin got Pittsburgh going by scoring 36 seconds apart in the first period. After that, Evgeni Malkin increased his NHL-leading points total to 108 with a power-play goal. And Crosby deflected Kris Letang's shot for only his second power-play goal in 56 games and the first of two Penguins goals in 13 seconds.
Clearly, the Devils can't wait to get home for Brodeur night ceremonies Friday after going 0-5-1 in their last six, a slump that has dropped them three points behind second-place Washington.
"Everything's a struggle for us right now, and it ends up in the back of our net every time we do something wrong," leading scorer Zach Parise said. "But we'll get through it."
The question is when. Last season, the Devils didn't recover from a late-season five-game losing streak and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
The Penguins had scored six goals against NHL career victories leader Brodeur only once previously, during a 6-3 victory in Pittsburgh on March 11, 2006.
Unlike Friday, when he will be honored for recently breaking Patrick Roy's record for goalie victories, this wasn't Brodeur's night.
"It was a tough night," he said.
At Washington, Mike Green's two power-play goals less than 1 1/2 minutes apart in the third period and Alex Ovechkin's NHL-leading 54th tally helped the Capitals close in on a second consecutive Southeast Division title.
Green's 18 man-advantage goals set a franchise record for a defenseman, breaking the mark of 16 held by Scott Stevens.
Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen each had a goal and an assist for New York.
At Toronto, Jamal Mayers, Lee Stempniak and Ian White scored for the already-eliminated Maple Leafs in a win over playoff-hopeful Philadelphia.
Arron Asham and Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers, who are in a fourth-place tie with Pittsburgh in the East.
Curtis Joseph, who will turn 42 this month, earned the win in his 10th start of the season.
At Atlanta, Ilya Kovalchuk scored on an unassisted breakaway with 29.9 seconds left in overtime to lift the Thrashers. Kovalchuk has 41 goals this season and 30 in 37 games.
Buffalo ended a three-game winning streak. The Sabres are four points behind ninth-place Florida and five behind Montreal and the playoff cutoff in the East.
Atlanta has won three straight and 10 of 13.
Thomas Vanek scored twice for Buffalo.
At Chicago, Nikolai Khabibulin made 16 saves, and Jonathan Toews, Samuel Pahlsson and Colin Fraser scored for the Blackhawks, who snapped St. Louis' five-game winning streak.
The Blackhawks moved within one point of clinching their first playoff berth since 2001-02 and their second in 11 seasons.
Khabibulin lost a bid for his second shutout when Jeff Woywitka scored a power-play goal with 1.5 seconds remaining.
At Denver, Al Montoya made 23 saves to earn a shutout in his first NHL game, and Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan scored a goal each to lead Phoenix.
Montoya, recalled from the AHL on March 23, led the Coyotes to their third win in four games.
Andrew Raycroft had 32 saves for the Avalanche, who have lost eight straight.
|Matt Cooke (11) ASST: Maxime Talbot (10), Hal Gill (7)|
1 - 0 PIT
|Bill Guerin (20) ASST: Chris Kunitz (27), Marc-Andre Fleury (1)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Brian Gionta (19) ASST: Dainius Zubrus (25), Colin White (17)|
2 - 1 PIT
|PPG - Evgeni Malkin (34) ASST: Sergei Gonchar (10)|
3 - 1 PIT
|PPG - Sidney Crosby (30) ASST: Kris Letang (21), Sergei Gonchar (11)|
4 - 1 PIT
|Jordan Staal (21) ASST: Ruslan Fedotenko (19), Hal Gill (8)|
5 - 1 PIT
|Chris Kunitz (23) ASST: Pascal Dupuis (15), Sidney Crosby (69)|
6 - 1 PIT
|John Madden Hi-sticking against Pascal Dupuis|
|Jamie Langenbrunner Hooking against Hal Gill|
|Brooks Orpik Interference against Dainius Zubrus|
|Brooks Orpik Roughing against Dainius Zubrus|
|Dainius Zubrus Roughing against Brooks Orpik|
|Mike Rupp Roughing against Maxime Talbot|
|Bobby Holik Cross checking against Mark Eaton|
|Kris Letang Interference against Jay Pandolfo|
|Bobby Holik Abuse of officials - bench|
|Sidney Crosby Roughing against Martin Brodeur|
|Bill Guerin Fighting (maj) against David Clarkson|
|David Clarkson Fighting (maj) against Bill Guerin|