Penguins 4, Devils 2
|Steckel celebrates after scoring his sixth of the season, first as a Devil, in the second period. GETTY IMAGES
PITTSBURGH -- Jordan Staal scored only the fourth Pittsburgh power-play goal in 21 games, Pascal Dupuis had two goals and brand-new dad Chris Kunitz added a goal as the Penguins all but locked up home-ice advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs by beating New Jersey 4-2 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins, fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, opened up a three-point advantage over fifth-place Tampa Bay, which lost 4-2 to Buffalo. Both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have two games remaining.
Staal gave Pittsburgh the lead at 17:37 of the first with Nick Palmieri
off for interference. Alex Kovalev, playing in his 1,300th career game, made a no-look pass to the neutral zone that James Neal deftly redirected to Staal, who beat Johan Hedberg
with a wrist shot under the crossbar from the lower left circle.
Staal’s 11th goal was only the second in 10 games for Pittsburgh’s power play, which has been converting at a league-low 12.9 percent in the three months since Sidney Crosby sustained a concussion.
, the then-Capitals center whose hard hit on Crosby came one game before Crosby’s season was halted, tied it 1-1 at 15:08 of the second, resulting in loud boos from the Penguins’ 206th consecutive sellout crowd. But Dupuis restored Pittsburgh’s lead barely a minute later, stuffing in a rebound of a Maxime Talbot shot that Hedberg couldn’t control.
Kunitz, whose wife gave birth to a daughter only hours before game time, made it 3-1 at 1:31 into the third with his 23rd of the season off an excellent setup by Tyler Kennedy. Brian Rolston
got the Devils back to within a goal three minutes later, but Dupuis later finished it off with an empty-net goal for his 16th.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves to improve to 35-20-5.
With the Devils playing the first regular-season game in 15 years in which they knew for certain they wouldn’t reach the playoffs, coach Jacques Lemaire rested goaltender Martin Brodeur
, who was credited with a shutout during a 1-0 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on March 25. Brodeur is 8-1-1 with a 0.79 goals-against average in his last 10 starts against the Penguins.
The two teams drew 18,331 for the Penguins’ final regular-season home game, the second-largest crowd in the Penguins’ first season at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins have sold out every home game for four consecutive seasons, something they never did in any season before the streak began in 2007.
The Devils, the NHL’s lowest-scoring team with an average of 2.05 goals per game coming in, were without forward Zach Parise
only one game after he returned from a 65-game layoff that resulted from right knee surgery. Parise’s knee remains sore. Parise had a pair of shots while playing 16:05 in his return Saturday against Montreal. The team says he's expected to play Wednesday at home against Toronto. The Devils finish the season Saturday at New York and Sunday at home against Boston.
Pittsburgh completed the season series 4-1-1 against the Devils, who swept all six games between the Atlantic Division rivals last season.
Kovalev is fifth among active players in games played, trailing only Mark Recchi of Boston, Mike Modano and Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Roman Hamrlik of Montreal.
|Three star selections