PITTSBURGH -- New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur was rhapsodizing earlier in the day about how relatively easy it was to play goal when the Devils' neutral-zone trap was dominant -- when even a one-goal lead felt safe.
As long as the all-time NHL leader for wins by a goalie remains in net, playing at an elite level, the Devils still feel as comfortable as any team can with a lead on the road.
Brodeur kept the Penguins off the board after an early Evgeni Malkin goal by making 41 saves, and the Devils won in Pittsburgh for the first time in more than two years, pulling out a 3-1 decision at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
"Our special teams were good, our goaltender was great," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
Rookie Adam Henrique scored the Devils' League-leading ninth shorthanded goal and Ilya Kovalchuk added his third goal in two nights less than three minutes later to put New Jersey up 2-1 in the second period. Dainius Zubrus padded the lead by deflecting a well-placed pass by Patrik Elias past Marc-Andre Fleury 1:28 into the third on what the Devils agreed was a broken play by the power-play unit.
"We were set up in the wrong formation pretty much every one of us but maybe that's why we got it, we play and react," Elias said.
Henrique and Kovalchuk each had a goal and an assist and Zach Parise set up two goals in New Jersey's first win in five games in Pittsburgh since Dec. 21, 2009.
With Brodeur excelling against the Penguins as usual – he beat them for the second time in eight days and the 44th time in his storied career -- the Devils (23-16-2) marked the halfway point of the season by moving past the slumping Penguins (21-15-4) and into third place in the Atlantic Division standings. With 48 points, the Devils have more than doubled the 22 they had with a 10-29-2 record at the midpoint a season ago.
"We need to continue on the way we're going now," said Brodeur, who is 4-1-1 in his last six starts. "There will be some bumps, we hit one against Boston (losing 6-1 on Wednesday), we but came back with two big wins."
Only a month ago, Pittsburgh was in first place in the Eastern Conference and New Jersey was out of the top eight, but the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins are 5-7 since then. They have lost four in a row, all in regulation – the first time they've done that since their five-game losing streak from Dec. 27, 2009 through Jan. 3, 2010.
The game played out much like the New York Rangers' 3-1 win at Consol on Friday, when Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead but, despite a clear edge in shots, couldn't get anything else past Henrik Lundqvist and conceded a shorthanded goal.
"We're coming out and dictating the way we want to play and putting pucks on net and going to the net," said James Neal, who doesn't have a point in four games. "It's obviously frustrating, but we know we're a better team than this and we've shown it."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the two games were so similar, "It was a little bit of déjà vu -- even the way they scored goals was similar."
The Penguins outshot the Devils 12-3 in the first period and 42-27 overall but struggled to find the net without the injured Crosby (concussion-related symptoms) and Jordan Staal, who injured his left knee on a hit by former teammate Mike Rupp of the Rangers on Friday.
Pittsburgh has played only 10 games the last two seasons with its top three centers -- Crosby, Malkin and Staal -- and their 210 combined games lost to injury in 2011-12 leads the NHL. The effect of all those injuries may be showing; the Penguins are 11-12-1 since they started 10-3-3.
"They've got so many injuries, at one point it was going to come back and hit them a little bit," Brodeur said. "But don't count them out. They're missing so many guys but they're still a tough team to play against."
The Penguins were dominant at the start against the Devils, who were coming off a 5-2 win over Florida on Friday with Johan Hedberg in net. Malkin, held without a goal in his last six games overall and his last six against New Jersey, beat Brodeur to the glove side on a one-timer 4:48 into the game.
Then, poof, the Penguins' scoring disappeared for the second night in a row.
"As the game went on I felt more comfortable, making saves and holding on to the puck and freezing the puck at the right time," said Brodeur, who has 637 career victories and is 44-25-5 with nine shutouts against Pittsburgh.
With the Penguins still controlling the momentum in the second, Henrique was stopped by Fleury on a shorthanded breakaway -- but the rookie swiped at the puck again as he skated hard to the net and put in the rebound at 8:39. The goal wasn't initially signaled – there was some momentary confusion about whether Fleury covered the puck -- but Henrique was credited with his 12th of the season after the officials conferred briefly.
"I had a lot of concern -- the referee closest to the play was waving it off," DeBoer said. "But when you watch it, it's clearly a goal."
Bylsma said the goal was correctly awarded.
Less than three minutes later, Kovalchuk – denied on a breakaway just after Henrique scored – gave New Jersey the lead with slap shot from center point created by Henrique's faceoff win and Parise's sharp pass from the right circle.
Fleury turned aside 24 shots in his 400th career game, but took the loss although he has permitted the Devils only nine goals in his last six games against them.