Eyes on the Division: Pens Beat Devils 4-2

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 05: Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on April 5, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Devils Blog: In Lou We Trust

The Penguins picked up two big points with a 4-2 win over the Devils, improving their season point total to 102 and moving Pittsburgh within one point of Philly's lead in the Atlantic Division.  Both teams have two games remaining.

And while we're at it, let's give a big thank you to the Buffalo Sabres for beating the Lightning tonight by the final of 4-2.  Provided the Pens gain at least one more point over the last two games, this more or less guarantees that Pittsburgh will have home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

But let's keep our eyes on the prize.  The Atlantic Division title is still highly probable.  Games against the Islanders and Thrashers will keep it interesting, but the Pens are already 2-for-2 since losing to the Lightning on March 31.

Tuesday's game was a solid win.  Nothing against the Devils is ever "beautiful," and by the look of things early in the first period it started to feel like we were all in for another long, painfully boring night.  But complaining about the Devils' "system" is like listening to people calling Sidney Crosby a crybaby.  It's overdone to the point of a shoulder shrug, but at least I can honestly say the second half of the game was better than the first.

Jordan Staal's power-play goal in the first was a beautiful example of why it's important to skate into the zone with an itchy trigger finger.  The minute he saw Johan Hedberg commit to the bottom of the net, Staal roofed a shot that had all the makings of a highlight-worthy goal. 

The second period started out like a game of watching paint dry, but lo and behold Pittsburgh's favorite Cap-turned-Devil David Steckel tied the game at one with his right place, right time goal.  But Pascal Dupuis would have none of that tied-score business, as he was quick to respond a minute later with a nice second-chance goal in front of Hedberg to put the Pens up 2-1. 

From there, Pittsburgh would not drop the lead, adding a goal from Kunitz in the third to take a comfortable yet not so comfortable 3-1 lead.  Sure enough, the Devils would not die as Brian Rolston kept them in it and trimmed the Penguins' lead to one as time ticked away in the third.

Whether it was "stupid hockey" or just a lazy play, Jordan Staal was sent to the box for tripping with less than two minutes remaining in the game.  No matter how you add it up, if the Pens wanted to win the game in regulation they'd have to do it with the penalty kill.  New Jersey's offense set up a few good opportunities with the man advantage, but when NJ opted for the extra attacker, Dupuis' heads-up play enabled him to send a shot down the ice, beating a sprawling Hedberg to seal the deal and give the Pens two hard-fought points.

If you look at Philadelphia's remaining games it's likely going to require a stronger effort than what the Penguins' schedule might suggest.  While both still have a game each against the Islanders, Philly also has a match against the Sabres who will likely remain in a position where they are playing for their playoff lives.  That's not to say the Pens will waltz into first place in the division, but the way competition is stacked they do have a slight advantage, strictly on paper.

Now all they have to do is close out strong.

Pens hit the road Friday to take on the Islanders and close out the regular season Sunday against the Thrashers.

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