Devils look to stay hot against visiting Penguins
PENGUINS (37-21-7) at DEVILS (28-31-4)
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Last 10 --
Pittsburgh 3-4-3; New Jersey 9-1-0
Season series --
They've met three times this season with the Penguins winning the first two before the Devils beat them in Newark, 2-0, on Jan. 20. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed that game and, of course, will be out Friday as well.
Big Story --
The Devils are clinging to their playoff dreams and their schedule is favorable with their next six games after this one against Atlanta, the Islanders and Ottawa. If they keep winning they'll be one of the biggest stories in the NHL down the stretch.
The Devils have taken on the slogan, "One game at a time." Media members will laugh because it's an overused cliché in the sports world that basically offers no analysis at all. However, in the Devils' case it actually means a lot. They have to win almost every single game, and, of course, the only way to do it is one at a time. They've won two in a row by 2-1 margins, nine of their past 10 and are 18-2-2 since a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay on Jan. 9. Ilya Kovalchuk
has been a linchpin for the Devils' success with 12 goals and 12 assists over the last 22 games. He had a goal and an assist in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Tampa Bay.
"When you need a goal, he's the guy to score one and sure enough (Wednesday night) he came through," new Devils center David Steckel
told The Record. "It's amazing, every time those guys touch the puck, you never know what's going to happen, but you're usually going to see something special and it happened (Wednesday night)."
The Penguins are hoping that winger Chris Kunitz makes his return Friday because he'll add some much needed grit and offense to the struggling lineup. Kunitz has missed 11 games with an unspecified injury, but he practiced with his teammates Tuesday and Thursday, and went through Wednesday's morning skate with them as well. The Penguins haven't won in regulation since Feb. 4. They're 3-9-3 over their last 15 games. Brooks Orpik has missed three straight games with a broken finger.
"(Kunitz) is getting back to full contact," coach Dan Bylsma told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He's out there skating a lot. I think he'd like to go right to game shape, but physical contact is an important part of his comfort level."
Who's Hot --
Well, there's Kovalchuk, of course, but let's not look past Martin Brodeur
, who has stopped 40 of 42 shots for back-to-back wins since returning from injury this past Sunday.
Injury Report --
Devils left wing Zach Parise
(knee surgery) began skating this week and hopes to return before the end of the season, but he's taking only baby steps in the next phase of his recovery so the team should not count on the goal scorer's return any time soon. … Pittsburgh is hoping for Kunitz's return, but knows that Orpik will be out again with his broken finger.
Stat Pack --
The Devils have allowed only 35 goals over the last 22 games. Fourteen of their wins have come against teams that as of Thursday either occupied a playoff spot or were in the thick of the race.
Puck Drop --
"Kovy's a different player," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire told reporters Wednesday night. "Kovy can do a lot of things on his own and he's got a knack for scoring and making plays. He's got a touch. That's why he's getting so much money."