PITTSBURGH — It won't exactly be a happy anniversary for Martin Brodeur. Then again, not many NHL goalies are experiencing good times these days against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins shook off a bad loss the night before to close to within one point of the idle Rangers in the race for the Eastern Conference lead, getting a goal and an assist each from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to beat Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Sunday night at Consol Energy Center.
Brodeur will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his NHL debut on Monday – it came on March 26, 1992, against Boston – and his lengthy career is partly the result of his longtime success against Pittsburgh. Forty-five of Brodeur's record 651 career wins are against the Penguins, whom he once defeated with almost tiresome regularity.
"It's kind of fun," Brodeur said of his two-decade tenure. "It means I've been around for a long time."
It's not so fun against these talent-deep and surging Penguins, who rebounded from an 8-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators with backup Brad Thiessen in goal on Saturday to win their 10th in a row at Consol and their 14th in 16 games, a stretch in which they are 14-1-1. They are 26-5-2 since Jan. 13, including another 5-2 win over Brodeur and the Devils on March 17.
"After giving up eight goals, not playing the way we wanted, it was a good way to bounce back," said Crosby, who has scored in successive games after going 12 straight games without a goal.
Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis also found the net for the Penguins, whose home ice winning streak is their longest since they also won 10 in a row from March 9-April 9, 1993.
Marc-Andre Fleury, as solid in net as Thiessen was shaky the night before, made 32 saves in his NHL-leading and career-high 41st win and is 12-0-1 in his last 13 decisions. By winning, the Penguins reached the 100-point mark for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in six seasons.
"Everybody was ready to do better tonight," Fleury said.
Devils forward Travis Zajac, limited to eight games this season following Achilles surgery, made an impact in his first game since Jan. 2 by setting up Ilya Kovalchuk's 32nd goal 3:37 into the third period – cutting it to 3-2. With Pittsburgh unable to clear the puck out of its zone, Zajac put a perfectly placed pass from the right circle onto Kovalchuk's stick near the left post.
"I felt pretty strong for most of the game, and as the game went along I definitely felt a lot better," said Zajac, who was in a walking boot for weeks after his initial comeback ended. "I knew Kovy was around the back door so I just kind of threw it there and it was just a little bit of a lucky play."
But the Penguins, 16-3-1 against Atlantic Division opponents in March and April since 2007, simply had too much of what New Jersey is lacking. Namely, offense.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer shook up his lines in an attempt to jump start a team that has been held to 11 goals in seven games and, while Zach Parise and Kovalchuk scored, the Devils couldn't keep up with a Penguins team that has scored at least four goals in seven of its last eight games.
"Tough building, tough team and you've got to come in here prepared to play almost a perfect game and we didn't do that," DeBoer said.
New Jersey remains a solid sixth in the Eastern Conference despite going 2-4-1 in its last seven games and, with only six games remaining, Brodeur said it’s time for the Devils to start building some momentum.
"You want to get in the playoffs as soon as possible, and with that in mind, you want to get in feeling good about yourself and not dogging it all the way through," Brodeur said. "We're doing a lot of good things, we've had a rough patch but we've played some really good hockey teams lately."
Another such team – the Blackhawks – awaits on Tuesday, the same night the Penguins play the New York Islanders at Consol.
Kunitz got the Penguins going only 64 seconds into the game, thanks to a rare misplay by Brodeur, who went behind the net to play the puck only to have Malkin beat him to it. Malkin fed it in front to Kunitz for his 23rd goal.
Parise, scoring in a second successive game after getting only one goal in 10 games, tied it about four minutes later after intercepting a risky pass by Crosby with Fleury out of the net. But Jordan Staal restored Pittsburgh's lead with 56 seconds remaining in the first with his 23rd, after Matt Cooke picked off a clearing pass.
Dupuis extended his scoring streak to a League-high 10 games (8 goals, 4 assists), off a rebound of Craig Adams' shot from the left circle that Crosby also whacked at before it bounced to Dupuis at 15:34 of the second. It was – you guessed it – his 23rd of the season. If Cooke scores again, the Penguins will have six players with 20 or more goals.
Kovalchuk got the Devils back into it by beating Fleury early in the third, but Crosby responded with his second goal in as many nights. Only a few minutes after failing to score despite expertly one-handing the puck around a surprised Marek Zidlicky, Crosby pulled off the same trick – this time with two hands – to get free and beat Brodeur for his fourth of his injury-interrupted season.
"A special goal," Dupuis said. "You see Evgeni Malkin make that move, Jordan, it takes a special player to make that move."
As Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, doing something special is routine, especially now that he seems to be settling in seven games since he returned from his second layoff with concussion symptoms this season.
"It was very identical to the one he did earlier," Bylsma said. "The puck is bouncing through neutral zone and Sid is able to get a stick on it and slide by defenseman at same time. … It's not unlike Sidney Crosby to pull that off."
Malkin upped his NHL-leading points total to 97 by scoring into an empty net with 1:32 remaining as the Penguins repeated their 5-2 road win over the Devils on March 17. The teams split the six-game season series.