The New Jersey Devils appear headed for their third Atlantic Division title in four years. The Pittsburgh Penguins may be the only team that can disrupt that plan.
The Devils look to extend their lead over the Penguins, who made two key additions before the trade deadline, with their fifth straight road victory when the teams meet at Mellon Arena on Tuesday night.
With a nine-point lead over the Penguins (33-19-9) and 19 regular season games remaining, New Jersey (39-18-6) is closing in on the franchise's seventh division title. After Tuesday's contest, the teams will meet twice more with the season series finale March 14.
The Devils have taken three of the first five meetings, with the Penguins last winning 5-4 at New Jersey on Feb. 16.
Backup Scott Clemmensen earned his first win of the season in his first start since Dec. 14 and Jamie Langenbrunner snapped a third-period tie, lifting the Devils to a 3-2 victory Sunday at Washington for a home-and-home split.
"I was kind of hoping my first win (of the year) wouldn't be in February, but so be it," Clemmensen said.
Parise and rookie Travis Zajac each had a goal and an assist for New Jersey, which has won four of five to pull within three points of Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo.
Martin Brodeur, who will be back in net Tuesday, got the Devils' first 38 wins, the most consecutive victories by a goalie to start a season in NHL history. Brodeur, who leads the NHL in wins, also has a league-best 11 shutouts and ranks second with a 2.10 goals-against average.
New Jersey has continued to be successful despite missing right wing Brian Gionta for the last six games. Gionta, second on the team with 24 goals, is day-to-day with a groin injury.
Picking up the slack in his absence is Parise, who has five goals in his last seven games and leads the team with 26. Defenseman Brian Rafalski has contributed five goals and three assists in his past seven contests.
Since matching Anaheim's NHL season-high 16-game point streak, the Penguins have lost two of three, including Sunday's 5-1 defeat at Tampa Bay.
"We're a team that's supposed to care," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "It's a great opportunity for us to see who wants to bounce back."
The Penguins, though, decided to add some help instead of just sitting back and waiting to see if that happens. On Tuesday, they traded for rugged veteran forward Gary Roberts and enforcer Georges Laraque to supplement their talented but inexperienced scorers.
Roberts, a 40-year-old left wing, was obtained from Florida for defenseman Noah Welch. Roberts has 13 goals and 16 assists this season, and 421 goals and 451 assists in 1,127 NHL games. He should give Pittsburgh a steadying, proven hand to complement Mark Recchi, the only veteran goal producer in a lineup led by 19-year-old Sidney Crosby, 20-year-old Evgeni Malkin and 18-year-old Jordan Staal.
The Penguins went even further, acquiring Laraque from Phoenix for forward prospect Daniel Carcillo and a low-round draft pick. Pittsburgh will look to Laraque to provide protection for those young stars.
"Teams know that to beat the Penguins, you have to hit Sidney Crosby, hit Evgeni Malkin, hit Jordan Staal," Laraque told Canada's TSN sports channel. "I'm up for the challenge to (protect them). I'm real excited. ... I know I'm going to be a lot busier and have more responsibility. They have more than one guy to target."
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Laraque is best known for fighting and drawing penalties - he has 878 penalty minutes in 546 games - but can also score an occasional goal. He has five along with 17 assists in 56 games this season, and 48 goals and 85 assists in his career.
Although they are New Jersey's closest pursuer, the Penguins are only five points ahead of the ninth-place New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference.
"A couple of bad games, and you're right out of the playoff picture," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
Jocelyn Thibault was rewarded with his second consecutive start following a 32-save performance in Thursday's 2-1 overtime win at Florida, but was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury after allowing three goals on 15 shots. Fleury, who gave up two goals on nine shots over the final 35 minutes, will start Tuesday.
While Fleury is 4-1-0 in his last five starts, he has a 4.40 GAA in that span.
Crosby, the NHL points leader, and Malkin each have seven-game point streaks. Crosby is three points shy of his second straight 100-point season and has a goal and 10 assists during his streak, while Malkin has three goals and seven assists during his run.
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