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Devils start four-game trip in Pittsburgh

by Sergei J. Feldman

DEVILS (22-16-2) at PENGUINS (21-14-4)


LAST 10: New Jersey (6-3-1); Pittsburgh (5-5-0)

Season Series: This will be the third of six meeting between the two Atlantic Division rivals. Pittsburgh won the first, 4-1, while New Jersey beat the Penguins 3-1 at the Prudential Center last Saturday.

Big Story: Both teams are in the middle of important stretches of play, as the Devils embark on a four-game road trip while the Penguins are in the midst of a three-game homestand.

Team Scope:

Devils: The Devils have quietly climbed up the Eastern Conference standings, using a 6-3-1 stretch to get to 46 points, tying them with the Penguins, who are sixth because they've played one fewer game. The Devils skate into Consol Energy Center off a 5-2 win against Southeast Division-leading Florida on Friday, a victory that washed away a lot of the bad taste from Wednesday's 6-1 rout at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

Ilya Kovalchuk's goal with 8:20 left in regulation broke a 2-2 tie against the Panthers before he and Zach Parise added empty-net goals.

"We talked between the second and third about going out and having a mindset that we were going to take over the game," coach Peter DeBoer said. "They played last night and we wanted to be on our toes and attack instead of sitting back and waiting for things to happen."

Penguins: It wasn't long ago that the Pens were flying high with a four-game winning streak, but after Friday's 3-1 loss to the Rangers, they've dropped a season-worst three in a row in regulation.

The Penguins took 11 of the game's first 12 shots and outshot New York 38-21 for the game. But they could beat Henrik Lundqvist just once and paid for the few mistakes they made in their own zone.

"We did a lot of good things; we just didn't capitalize on them," forward Chris Kunitz said. "But they also capitalized on their chances ... like on 2-on-1s, plays that were kind of easy goals for them."

Who's Hot: The Devils have been led by Patrik Elias, who has seven points in his last five games. Meanwhile, the Pens have relied on the services of Evgeni Malkin and his four points in five games.

Injury Report: Travis Zajac (Achilles soreness) and Anton Volchenkov (leg) both sat out Friday and didn't make the trip to Pittsburgh. … The Penguins remain without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, both of whom are recovering from concussion symptoms. Jordan Staal left Friday night's game with an apparent lower-body injury.

Stat Pack: This will be NHL game No. 1,001 for Elias. He has three points on Friday while becoming just the third player in Devils history to 1,000 games for New Jersey.

Puck Drop: Elias is third on the Devils' games-played list behind Ken Daneyko and current teammate Martin Brodeur, but is tops on the franchise's all-time scoring list -- and, apparently, with his teammates as well.

"He's an all-time Devil and he deserves everything he's got," Kovalchuk said. "He's a great teammate and a great player. It's enjoyable to play with those guys."

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