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Three keys powered Pens to victory

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

For the Penguins to get back on track after losing eight of their last 10 games, head coach Mike Sullivan said it would boil down to three things.

Collective effort.

Playing the right way.

Paying attention to the details.

The Penguins checked all three of those boxes on Tuesday at Prudential Center, and it resulted in a much-needed 5-2 win over New Jersey.

"I thought that's one of the better games that we've played, one of our more complete games that we've played in a while," Sullivan said. "I thought all four lines were going. I thought the defensemen all competed out there. I thought our leaders set the example."

Sometimes, mistakes can snowball, and that had been happening to the Penguins a lot throughout this stretch. But sometimes, those small plays can snowball, too.

As Sullivan said the other day, when the Penguins make the right decisions with and without the puck and get locked in, that's when they become harder to play against and a lot stingier.

"I think once one or two lines go over the boards and do the right things and play the right way, I think it's contagious throughout the bench," Bryan Rust said.

"Everybody played hard and everybody was on the same page and everybody was working together. I think that's the key. There's always going to be mistakes, there's always going to be breakdowns. As long as they come out of guys working hard and working for each other, that's part of the game of hockey."

Just look at Justin Schultz's goal, his first since Nov. 15. It started with him making a good defensive play as the Devils entered the Penguins zone, breaking up a drop pass with a pokecheck. Rust was there supporting the play, so he picked up the puck and went the other way.

After Rust entered the Devils zone and handed the puck off to Evgeni Malkin, he found Schultz, who was now supporting the play the other way. Schultz wound up and went bar down to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.

The Penguins faced their biggest challenge in the third period. Just 18 seconds into a penalty on Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang was called for slashing - giving the Devils 1:42 on a 5-on-3.

"We knew we were going to have to bear down," Rust said. "We knew we were going to have to block a couple shots."

And that's exactly what they did. After getting a big opening clear from Brian Dumoulin, the Devils regrouped and entered the zone - where Rust made a big sliding block to deflect the puck out. After that, Teddy Blueger also made a huge block that had him sliding to the bench in pain.

The players did a terrific job of getting sticks and bodies in lanes, especially Jack Johnson on the bottom zone. And when the Devils did get pucks through, Matt Murray was there to make the saves.

"It was awesome," Murray said. "Teddy had a huge block. Rusty had a huge block. (Marcus Pettersson) had a couple huge blocks. All of us were blocking shots out there and doing what it took to get the job done. That's what you need to win and that's what we did."

That kill gave the Penguins a ton of momentum, which led to Malkin scoring his first of two goals of the game to give his team a 3-1 lead that they would not relinquish, and Letang sealed the victory late with an empty-netter.

The Penguins know they can't get ahead of themselves. It's just one win. But it stopped the bleeding. Now they just have to string together another similar effort moving forward into Thursday at Columbus.

"We just have to build on the momentum," Sullivan said. "That's what I said to them after the game. It was a great effort. It's one game. We'll feel good about it here for a little bit. But we'll be ready to move by it. But hopefully it's a good feeling. I'm happy for the players. I know how hard they're working. I thought it was more of a team effort tonight and as a result we were able to have success."

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