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Penguins host Devils, try to trim deficit in Atlantic

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (34-35-4) at PENGUINS (43-23-8)


Last 10: 
New Jersey 6-4-0; Pittsburgh 6-2-2

Season series: Fifth of six meetings this season -- the Penguins won the first two, but the Devils have answered with a pair of victories, both on home ice. Martin Brodeur recorded the shutout in a 2-0 win on Jan. 20, while Ilya Kovalchuk's power-play goal in the final minute of overtime was the deciding factor in a 2-1 triumph on March 4.

Big story: There's cautious optimism in Pittsburgh that captain Sidney Crosby could make it back for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but in the meantime the Penguins continue to win without him. They're only four points behind the Flyers for the Eastern Conference lead after winning in a shootout Thursday night in Philadelphia, and have opened up a five-point lead over the Lightning in the race for fourth and home ice in the first round.

Team Scope:

Devils: Keeping up their frenetic second-half surge was bound to be difficult, and New Jersey seems to have hit the rough stretch it couldn't afford with three losses in the last four games. The Devils aren't dead yet, but their playoff hopes are now hanging by a thread. Kovalchuk got them off to a fast start against the Bruins on Tuesday with a power-play goal and they held a 14-1 advantage in shots at one point but couldn't further take advantage and eventually suffered a 4-1 defeat.

"We can't take as many penalties as we did tonight," forward Brian Rolston said. "I really thought we had a lot of good things going in the first period. They made it 1-1 and we were killing penalties from then on in."

Penguins: It won't be easy for Pittsburgh to overtake Philadelphia -- the Flyers will have two games in hand after Friday and they've got a valuable tiebreaker with five more non-shootout wins -- but that doesn't mean the Penguins don't intend to try. A deadlocked game through 65 minutes was finally decided when Chris Kunitz tallied in the fourth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker, while Marc-Andre Fleury was solid when called upon, making 19 saves in the 2-1 victory.

"It's always good to come into this barn and get two points. Hopefully we can do the same next week," forward Jordan Staal said, referring to a rematch between the teams on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Who's hot: Rookies Jacob Josefson (2-4-6) and Mattias Tedenby (0-6-6) have been sparkplugs for the Devils over the last half-dozen games. Tedenby is the team's rookie scoring leader and seventh overall with 20 points this season. … Kunitz has 4 goals and 5 assists during a five-game points streak for the Penguins. Tyler Kennedy has goals in two straight games and three of his last four.

Injury report: New Jersey forward Zach Parise (knee) and defenseman Matthew Corrente (shoulder) are on injured reserve. … Crosby (concussion) has been skating for Pittsburgh and defenseman Brooks Orpik is on the mend from a broken finger and could return soon. Also on injured reserve are forwards Evgeni Malkin (knee), Eric Tangradi (concussion) and Nick Johnson (upper body). Forward Dustin Jeffrey left Thursday's game with a lower-body injury. Goalie Brent Johnson was scratched with an upper-body injury. Mark Letestu has been out with an upper-body injury, and forward Matt Cooke is suspended through the first round of the playoffs.

Stat pack: Brodeur has won two of his three decisions against the Penguins this season with an 0.98 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. … Johnson has started three times against the Devils, going 1-1-1 with a 1.63 GAA and .938 save percentage. Fleury stopped 28 of 29 shots in his only start, a 2-1 win for Pittsburgh on Dec. 6.

Puck drop: It seems that by the final time these teams, April 5 at Consol Energy Center, New Jersey will once again have Parise's services. Out since knee surgery on Nov. 2, he practiced with his teammates for the first time Thursday and traveled to Pittsburgh, though he won't play Friday. Parise had 3 goals and 6 points in 12 games this season.

"He will play this season, unless there is something unforeseen that happens," GM Lou Lamoriello told the Newark Star-Ledger.

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