March 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins centers Evgeni Malkin (71) and Sidney Crosby (87) on the ice before playing the New Jersey Devils at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
Pittsburgh was just too much for the visiting Devils as the NHL's highest-scoring offense struck five times in winning for the 14th time in their last 16 outings, pulling to within a single point of the Rangers for the top spot in the East.
Four different players, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, each scored a goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-2 win over their Atlantic Division rival New Jersey Devils Sunday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Penguins' five goals upped their NHL-leading total to 253 for the season.
With the victory, Pittsburgh hit the century mark for points and climbed back to within one point of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers, who lead the Presidents' Trophy race with 101 points (tied with the Western Conference's St. Louis Blues, but N.Y. has the edge with more regulation wins).
The Penguins desperately needed a win to make up for the two points they lost Saturday night in an 8-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, and Pittsburgh set up a battle for the conference crown over the last seven games of the regular season. The East race is basically a three-team sprint, as the Philadelphia Flyers have a slim, outside shot sitting at 96 points.
The Pens are now a blistering 14-1-1 in their last 16 games, and have won 10 consecutive home contests.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves on 34 New Jersey shots in setting a new personal high with his 41st victory of the season. His record stands at a stellar 41-14-4 for the year. The win was the 225th of his career, just one short of Tom Barrasso's franchise record.
New Jersey is now 6-4-1 in their last 10 contests -- but just 1-3-1 in their last five -- and missed out on an opportunity to inch closer to the Flyers for the fifth seed. The Devils remain at 90 points with only six games left.
Chris Kunitz opened the scoring just over a minute into the game, and was the recipient of a gift on a bad giveaway behind the net by the Devils' usually reliable puck-handling netminder Martin Brodeur. The New Jersey goalie had the puck stolen by Malkin, who promptly hit his left winger in front and had more than half the net with which to shoot. Kunitz made no mistake in netting his 23rd goal of the season, and second in his last three games.
As if he felt badly for the present given by his counterpart, Fleury committed his own gaffe from within the realm of the trapezoid. The goaltender's pass hit off Crosby and bounded into the slot, and Zach Parise was able to beat Ben Lovejoy to the puck and backhand it into the vacated cage for his 30th of the season, knotting the score at 1-1 at the 5:10 mark.
Just as it appeared the teams would skate to their respective locker rooms with a tie score, Pittsburgh seized the lead with a last-minute tally, as Jordan Staal was able to beat Brodeur with a wrist shot with just 56 seconds remaining to make it a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead at the first intermission.
Pascal Dupuis doubled the Penguins' lead late in the middle frame, ramming home the rebound of a Crosby shot for his 23rd goal of the year at the 15:34 mark to give the home team a 3-1 lead heading into the third period.
The Devils leading goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk, was able to bring his club back to within a goal early in the stanza, notching his 32nd of the season at 3:37 to make it a 3-2 deficit.
But that would be as close as New Jersey would get, as Crosby made a spectacular play to restore the two-goal lead. With a Zbynek Michalek pass coming to him at the Devils' blue line, Crosby reached around defenseman Marek Zidlicky and deflected the puck past him, then motored after it and found himself on a breakaway. Crosby beat Brodeur for his fourth goal of the year and second in as many games, giving him two goals and 13 points in the seven games since his return from a concussion, and 25 points in 15 contests for the year.
Malkin iced the game with a long-range goal after Brodeur was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:32 remaining in regulation time. It was the 46th goal for the NHL's leading scorer, who recovered nicely after scoring no points and posting a minus-four rating against Ottawa the previous night. Malkin now has 97 points, 10 more than Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, whom Malkin trails by six goals in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. The Pittsburgh star has eight goals and 16 points in his last eight games.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of his first NHL game, the loss was Brodeur's fourth in a row (0-3-1), dropping his season record to 26-21-4.