-- The first four losses Pittsburgh had against New Jersey this season were pretty lopsided. The Devils were much better and did a masterful job of taking the Penguins out of their game.
The last two were not like the first four, but they were losses nonetheless.
Pittsburgh finished its season series against New Jersey 0-for-6 by a cumulative score of 22-5. The numbers are gruesome, yet somehow the Penguins are confident that if they see the Devils in the playoffs, well they'll win the seven-game series.
"Playoffs is a whole different season," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby
said after his team fell to the Devils again, 5-2, Wednesday night. "Intensity is higher, the game is faster and everything is bigger and more important. When you play each other in the playoffs, the past doesn't really matter. The team that is going to execute the best is going to win. This (0-6 record vs. New Jersey) isn't something we're going to think about in the playoffs. It's behind us and we have to be better for going through this."
The only credit the Penguins were offering the Devils after Wednesday's game was that they capitalized on some downright hideous mistakes. New Jersey's first four goals came directly off Pittsburgh turnovers. The fifth was on an empty net.
, Bill Guerin
, Jordan Leopold
and Pascal Dupuis
were the culprits in the goals by Dainius Zubrus
, Paul Martin
, Patrik Elias
and Zach Parise
. Zubrus, Martin and Elias all came in alone on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
"This is a team that is good at forcing teams in to errors, but I don't think the errors that we have tonight were forced," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
said. "I think they had 12 shots on net (halfway through the game) and five were clear breakaways. That's not anything you want to give your goalie. That's leaving your goalie out to dry."
Bylsma saved Fleury by giving him the hook 10:17 into the game after Parise scored from in front. Penguins' defensemen Mark Eaton
and Brooks Orpik
failed to cancel him out, but that was well after Dupuis couldn't handle Tyler Kennedy
's pass by the opposite blue line.
faced only five shots the rest of the way before Rob Niedermayer
scored an empty-net goal. Max Talbot told NHL.com the team owes Fleury a big apology.
"We were kind of our own worst enemy tonight," Crosby said. "We really did hurt ourselves."
That's what burns the Penguins more than losing for the sixth straight time to the Devils. They know if they didn't make those egregious mistakes that the two points was there for the taking.
"Every goal was off a turnover," Matt Cooke
Pittsburgh dominated the first 10 minutes of the game and managed to beat Martin Brodeur
, something they didn't do too often this season, with a rebound goal by Chris Kunitz
just 4:01 in.
However, Letang coughed the puck up to Elias, who sent Zubrus in for a breakaway from the blue line while the Penguins were changing. Zubrus made a tremendous move before tucking the puck past Fleury's right pad at 10:51 of the first.
Just over seven minutes later, Guerin's errant pass to Kennedy wound up on Martin's stick in the neutral zone. Martin, who pinched to get the pass off the wall, walked over the blue line and into the right circle before snapping the puck past Fleury's stick side.
Elias scored his shorthanded breakaway goal 3:09 into the second after he intercepted Leopold's horrible backhanded pass at blue line and then beat Letang through the neutral zone and into the Penguins' zone.
"The most frustrating thing about this loss is we did it to ourselves," Cooke said. "It seems like we've done that too much against this team."
"The media or the fans will come to their conclusions about things, but they're (Devils) not in our heads. We've beaten Philly and we've beaten the Rangers pretty well this year and I don't think we think that they can never beat us. I think that would be kind of naive to think. I don't think that's their mindset, either." -- Mike Rupp
But apparently that doesn't matter now. You don't have to believe the Penguins when they say the past is the past, but boy, do they sound pretty convinced that the Devils do not own them and if they met in the playoffs the story would be much, much different.
"The media or the fans will come to their conclusions about things, but they're not in our heads," Mike Rupp
said. "We've beaten Philly and we've beaten the Rangers pretty well this year and I don't think we think that they can never beat us. I think that would be kind of naive to think. I don't think that's their mindset, either."
Added Crosby: "In the standings you can see maybe that it makes a big difference, but there is no point in looking back now. We have been on the wrong side a lot here, but we understand our game and we know what it's going to take to beat these guys."
If they get another chance to prove it, the stakes will be a heck of a lot higher.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl