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Penguins/Devils Recap: Pens clinch home-ice in 1st round with 7-4 win

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Goals aplenty tonight in New Jersey with the Pittsburgh Penguins exploding for a 7 spot and taking the win. This result, combined with a Columbus loss tonight means Pittsburgh gets home ice wrapped up for the first round of the playoffs.

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Pregame

The Penguins forwards are (luckily) the same as last game after some injury scares to Rust and Cullen. On defense Trevor Daley is back for his first game since February 21 after missing 20 games following knee surgery. Interestingly enough replaces Mark Streit (and not Chad Ruhwedel) in the lineup.

1st period

The Devils strike first on a weird one. Old pal Beau Bennett makes a nice skill play with a reverse pass from behind the net and Stefan Noesen shoots. Matt Murray is there to make a save but he doesn't control the puck and the "help" provided by Carter Rowney to try and clear accidentally skitters the puck into the net when he gets caught up with Murray's leg pad. Very bizarre but it counts just the same, 1-0 NJD.

The Pens go on the penalty kill when Ian Cole goes to the box and they go into survival mode. Taylor Hall burns the defense but Murray stops him. Miles Wood hits the post. Then some Devils defenseman named Michael Kapla (who I've literally never heard of) tries to make a really bad pass from behind his net straight up the ice. Bryan Rust is there to pick it off and knock it to Nick Bonino. Bonino makes a nice play to get it back to Rust and the former Golden Domer slams the puck past Cory Schneider to tie the game at 1.

Pittsburgh gets a power play but does nothing with it. Ruhwedel gets injured on the play and leaves the bench. The penalty ends and Cole is lucky not to take another penalty breaking up a play that Justin Schultz quickly head-mans up ice to Jake Guentzel. Guentzel smartly gives the play time to develop for Josh Archibald to provide a center-drive to the net. Guentzel hits Bonino with a pass and Bonino freezes Schneider then sends a return pass back to Guentzel for an easy one. 2-1 Pens.

Shots 12-8 in favor of NJD on the period, but thanks to the flurry at the end it's Pittsburgh who's up on the scoreboard.

2nd period

The lead doesn't last long, in the first minute of the period New Jersey comes out strong. John Moore jumps up on the rush from his defense position and gets a good scoring lane, beating Murray to tie it up at 2.

(Ruhwedel is back, by the way, and thankfully)

Pittsburgh answers quickly though, nice hustle and then pass from Scott Wilson to find Josh Archibald who snaps a hard shot short-side like an old pro for his 3rd goal of the season to make the score 3-2 still early on in the 2nd period.

The Pens 1st line sees this nice play by the 4th line and decides to step it up themselves, making I believe about 4 or 5 straight back-hand or no look passes, capped off of course by the captain with an unreal pass for Conor Sheary, giving him a wide-open net. This happens 56 second after the last goal and the floodgates are open. 4-2.

That doesn't last long, the Devils get a power play and Taylor Hall makes them pay, sniping a shot over the shoulder of Murray to make it 4-3.

The Penguins get a power play and the Penguins get a goal. Crosby puts a pass on Kessel that's right there for a goal but Phil shoots it into the goalie somehow. Luckily, the puck lays on a silver platter for Patric Hornqvist and he isn't going to miss from there .5-3.

However, the Pens don't escape the period with a 2 goal lead on a really lax defensive play. Cole backs way off Kyle Palmieri and Crosby just moonwalks out of the picture too, and Murray somehow ends up helpless and it's easy for Palmieri to score. 5-4 with 1:24 left in the period but boy the Pens went to the break a little early and it caught them

Shots 28-20 for NJD and goals aren't that far behind but luckily are favoring Pittsburgh 5-4.

3rd period

Guentzel takes a frustration slashing penalty in the offensive zone (which frustrates me as a fan) but things turn sunny. Ron Hainsey gets stung by blocking a shot but keeps his head together enough to make a little pass to Matt Cullen. Cullen adds to the veteran smarts on this play by passing to Tom Kuhnhackl instead of clearing. Kuhnhackl zooms up the ice and sauces a beautiful pass back to Cullen who fires one through Schneider's glove. 6-4.

Murray hasn't had a great game, but he makes a great stop here, and then later denies Hall again on a 10-bell save. Not pretty but it'll do.

Pittsburgh gets a late power play and deep into it, Dumoulin uses some nice vision to find the stick that Bonino has sitting out for him. The tip goes into the net to make it 7-4. Why not?

Shots end up 38-28 in the game for NJD but when the horn sounds it's Pittsburgh skating away with the win.

Some Thoughts

  • This is the time of year when everyone reads deeply into everything (well, even more than normal) but maybe there's nothing to Ruhwedel playing over Streit. Streit, after all, is a 39-year old defenseman who's played 17 games since being acquired by the Pens on March 1. And the season ends with today's stretch of 3 games in 4 days...So maybe it's nothing more than getting the veteran a little bit of rest with a night off.
  • 2 primary assists for Bonino on nice passes to boot. Memory from Pensburgh Ups and Downs tells me he only had 2 assists, period in 16 games in March. Nice to see him producing, Pittsburgh will need that in the postseason. A late goal too has to be good for the confidence
  • Would have been nice to see Kessel get off the schnide and score the gimme but, ehh, still ended up in the net. Better to see Crosby generate that kind of chance, and chances are that ends up in the net somehow, like it did here if they get that passing lane and Kessel keeps jumping up and looking to the net to shoot.
  • As pointed out by Jason Mackey on twitter, the first four goal scorers (and nine of the last 11 up to that point) all 25 years or younger. Should bode well for the future.
  • Pressed back into duty, Daley played 20:53 on the net. He wasn't all that sharp (to be expected, honestly after a 6+ week absence) but nice to let him knock a little rust off and gear up for the playoffs. Now of interest- will it be with Dumoulin in basically the Pens 1st pair?
  • 50 wins on the season for Pittsburgh, who clinches the #2 seed in the Eastern and Metro division by virtue of tonight's results (a win and a Columbus regulation loss). With the Pens home dominance, better to have 4 games out of 7 on home ice than not, if necessary.
  • For more on this game (including what's sure to be an entertaining and informative recap) check out our SBN friends at All About the Jersey.

Now, just 2 more games to go. Despite scares to Hainsey and Ruhwedel, it appears Pittsburgh made it out of this one unscathed which is very important. Also important obviously is wrapping up home ice for 1st round. Now the last two games are completely meaningless and hopefully will be fairly quiet affairs as the team gears up for when it counts.