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After rare loss, Pens set to host Devils

by Sergei J. Feldman
DEVILS (42-27-6) AT PENGUINS (46-22-6)


Last 10: New Jersey 6-3-1; Pittsburgh 8-1-1.

Seaon Series: This will be the sixth and final meeting between the two Atlantic Division rivals. The Devils won three games, while the Penguins won the first game of the series and the most recent contest.

Big Story: This time of year, it's all about the race for the playoffs and both the Devils and Penguins are very much in the thick of things. While the Devils look to solidify or build on their sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins aim to catch the New York Rangers atop the Atlantic Division and lock up the top spot in the conference. When the two teams collide, something will have to give.

Team Scope:

Devils: The Devils started the month of March with a vengeance, losing in regulation just once in seven games. Of late, however, the team has been on a rollercoaster ride, winning here, losing there. As they head down the final stretch, finding consistency will likely make the difference between feeling confident about their game heading into the playoffs. Most recently, the Devils are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, in which the club at least earned a point. Prior to that outing, the Devils edged Ottawa, 1-0. For most of this year, the Devils have been able to manage playing an up-and-down game with the reliance on strong, shutdown defensive performances.

Penguins: Meanwhile, the Penguins have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL before Sidney Crosby's return to the lineup and have been even better since his return to the ice. Despite their strong play on the ice in the last 30-plus games, the Penguins showed they could be beaten, as the Ottawa Senators put up eight goals behind backup netminder Brad Thiessen Saturday night. The regulation loss was the first since Feb. 19. Nowadays, every point matters for the Penguins, who have the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference’s top seed, as well as the President's Trophy within reach.    

"You never want to lose but you also don't want to get away with the kind of mistakes that we made tonight," Crosby said. "Sometimes that gives you a false sense of security, when you get away with stuff like that, so I think we have to make sure that we're keeping good habits here.   

Who's Hot: Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk has points In four of his past five games, while the Penguins are led by netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn't lost a regulation start in 14 appearances.

Injury Report: Travis Zajac (day-to-day) and Henrik Tallinder (indefinitely) are out for New Jersey, while Pittsburgh will be without the services of Joe Vitale (day-to-day), Brent Johnson (day-to-day) and Matt Niskanen (day-to-day)

Stat Pack: The New Jersey Devils will bring into Consol Energy Center the League's top-ranked penalty killing unit with an 89.2 percent conversion rate.

Puck Drop: Crosby on what to expect from opponents night in, night out: "Teams are going to be desperate from here on in so we've got to expect tough games and really make sure our game is where it needs to be heading into the playoffs."

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