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Pens keep rolling, rout Devils for 11th straight win

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are still looking up at the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings. They won't be for too much longer if they stay this hot.

Pittsburgh ran its winning streak to 11 games and moved within two points of the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference with a 5-2 win over the Devils at Prudential Center on Saturday. The Rangers could push it back to four points Saturday night, when they play host to Colorado at Madison Square Garden, but Pittsburgh also plays Sunday in Philadelphia (12:30 p.m., NBC, NHLN-CA).

The Penguins were 10 points behind the Rangers on Feb. 21, when their winning streak began, ironically enough, with a 2-0 win over the Rangers.

"One of our goals is winning the division, and as we keep winning here it's a possibility. We want to keep focusing on that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's great to win 11 in a row, but now we're going into Philly and Philly is right on our heels as well. They're playing great hockey and it's a big rivalry. We have to put 11 behind us and look right ahead to Philly."

Sidney Crosby picked up three more assists in 15:19 of ice time on Saturday. He now has five assists and a plus-five rating in the two games he's played since making his second return from concussion-related symptoms this season.

Crosby said his play and ice time (a combined 31:19 in the two games) have so far matched his expectations.

"If you come into a situation where everyone is playing well and you just have to fill your role, do your job, it's always more comfortable," he added. "It's a good feeling and that's really what you want at the end of the day."

Crosby assisted on Evgeni Malkin's power-play goal in the second period. It was Malkin's 40th goal of the season, and the second time he's hit the 40-goal plateau in his career.

Pascal Dupuis also matched his career-high with his 20th goal (the last time he did that was in 2002-03 while with Minnesota) and Matt Cooke scored two more goals to set a career-high in goals at 16. Cooke also scored twice at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. He has 31 points and 30 penalty minutes this season after averaging 30 points and 112 penalty minutes in each of the past three seasons.

Jordan Staal extended his point-scoring streak to 10 games with an assist on Dupuis' goal, and Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his 10th straight victory and 39th of the season.

Considering he only faced 14 shots on Saturday, Fleury will likely start Sunday against the Flyers as well.

"Everybody is playing the right way," Dupuis told "It's a team game and everybody seems to know their role and play great in their role. We all know what it takes. We all know what it looks like. It's the same guys, same core. It's great."

From a team perspective, the Penguins outshot the Devils, 44-14, and were successful at erasing all three New Jersey power plays to run their penalty-kill streak to 25 in a row. They haven't given up a power-play goal since Feb. 25.

"Probably one of the worst statements ever is we take it one game at a time, but that's really our mentality," Cooke said. "The winning streak is nice and it's fun, but we play the game like we've lost five in a row. That's the most important thing."

It was also no small feat to win in Prudential Center. Pittsburgh had won here only once in its previous eight visits.

The Penguins forced the Devils to play at their speed right from the opening faceoff. It nearly paid off 1:55 in as Chris Kunitz was taken down on his way to the net, setting up a penalty shot. Martin Brodeur made a right pad save, but James Neal rifled a shot past the Devils' goalie directly off the ensuing faceoff to start the Penguins' offense.

"(The Devils) are really good at forcing you to slow down and let them set up their trap, but we forced them into playing our pace today and they had a difficult time with that," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Pittsburgh's pace and pressure resulted in it taking a 4-1 lead with three unanswered goals over a span of 2:32 midway through the second period.

Dupuis scored on a low slap shot from the left circle, Cooke scored by re-directing Crosby's centering pass in off his right skate (video review confirmed a good goal) and Malkin used Crosby's cross-zone, tape-to-tape pass to crank a high one-timer from the right circle into the short side.

Crosby worked the puck on the left wall. Once he had it he looked up he saw Malkin alone in the opposite circle so he rifled the pass. Crosby said he also heard Malkin screaming for the puck.

"We were pretty good early on at establishing a pace in the game, and playing in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "I thought we were able to do that a lot throughout the game. Whether it was after power plays or penalty kills, we were able to re-establish that ability to play at that pace, which was something we were looking to do."

The Devils drew even on Andy Greene's first goal of the season with 3:03 to play in the first period. They also controlled the play and the pace early in the second period, but never could build any type of momentum.

"You cannot show up against, I think, the best team that I've seen this year with less than you're A-game," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "We were off in some areas and they expose it and make you pay."

Asked to elaborate, to describe the areas in which they were off, DeBoer responded, "Do we have all night here?

"Attention to detail. We lost key faceoffs, lost key puck battles, gave up too many odd-man rushes -- too many areas against too good of a team."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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