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Penguins Try to Solve Devils

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins travel to New Jersey for their final showdown of the regular season with the rival Devils Wednesday night in a battle for Atlantic Division supremacy. The Penguins currently hold the advantage with a two-point edge in the standings (87-85) over the Devils, but New Jersey can pull even with a victory at the Prudential Center.

“We’re going to be pushing for the lead in our division,” forward Matt Cooke said. “The phrase ‘four-point game’ is getting used a lot even though you only get two points in the standings. It’s a big game for us.”

However, the Penguins aren’t merely battling the Devils. They are also battling a season-long winning drought against New Jersey. The Garden State ice hockey team is 5-0 against Pittsburgh this season, outscoring the Penguins 17-3 in those matchups. The Penguins would love to snap that losing streak and earn an important two points as the regular season winds to an end.

“We know we’ve played them five times and haven’t beaten them yet,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We know that we have a big game that will be a big factor in deciding the division. We know what kind of team they are. We know they’re a good team. We know we’re going to have to have our best game, an emotional game in their building.”

It’s a big game. We know that we’re close in the standings. This game means a lot. It’s important for us that we’ve played a couple good games against them and haven’t gotten rewarded for it. We want to make sure that we finish the season series off well, and come up with one - Sidney Crosby
“It’s a big game,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We know that we’re close in the standings. This game means a lot. It’s important for us that we’ve played a couple good games against them and haven’t gotten rewarded for it. We want to make sure that we finish the season series off well, and come up with one.”

“No matter how we play it’s always tough to lose,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I don’t know why they seem to beat us every time. We can’t be worried. We just need to go in and play our game the way we can and I’m sure we’ll be alright.”

Although the Penguins wouldn’t mind forgetting the first four games of the season series, the team only has to look at the last two meetings for indications that they Devils can be beaten.

The two clubs battled to the wire on Dec. 30 as New Jersey clung to a 1-0 lead. The Devils added an empty-net goal to pull out a 2-0 victory in a closely fought contest. In the most recent matchup, just five days ago in New Jersey, the two teams entered the third period tied at 1-1. A controversial goal by New Jersey – where there was clear interference on Fleury – led to a 3-1 Devils’ win. Both games were close and could have gone either way.

In such close games, goaltending can be the difference. One factor in the Devils’ success has been the play of netminder Martin Brodeur. This season against Pittsburgh, Brodeur is 5-0-0 while stopping 158 of 161 shots for a transcendent .981 save percentage. 

“It was close games, tight games. We had a lot of chances,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “Goalies are huge in these kinds of games. He’s played huge for them. He’s made some key saves. He’s going to battle hard in net. He’s a little unconventional. He’s not standing, not butterfly. He reacts differently on every puck. When he’s on, he’s on.

“Just putting pucks at them and being better in the neutral zone, counter attacking, I think we can do a better job. We need to put pucks at him and a lot of traffic. Obviously Brodeur is a good goalie and playing well against us. We just need to put pucks on him.”

In the last two games, the Penguins went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with New Jersey but still came up short. Nonetheless, the team’s performances have instilled a sense of confidence among the Penguins that if they continue to play their game, eventually they will break through with a victory over New Jersey, and stop the Devils from pulling off their first season sweep of Pittsburgh in team history.

“In the previous five games, we’ve stayed to our game throughout the 60 minutes,” Bylsma said. “That’s going to be a big focus for us in the game. We know exactly how they’re going to play, and we know how the game is going to play out. Are we going to have the mindset that this is how it is going to be, and we’re going to stick to our game and focus on the areas that we need to and do that for the whole 60 minutes? That’s a big factor for us in that game.”

“We played the right way,” Dupuis said. “We played well against these guys. Pucks just aren’t going in. Hopefully they’ll go in (Wednesday).”

Crosby also isn’t deterred by the lack of success his team has had against New Jersey this season. He believes in his team and his focus is on the final showdown.

“You obviously want to win,” he said. “They’ve had the better record. They’re not in our head. They could beat us 15 times in a row and wouldn’t be in our head. I think we’ve played in big games enough to know that’s the way it goes sometimes. I think we’re pretty confident in our abilities and our team. It doesn’t matter that we’ve dropped a bunch against them in the past. It doesn’t really matter at this point. This is the biggest one of them all. This is the one we need badly.”

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