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Recap: Penguins take care of business against Devils, move into first place for at least a moment

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The Pens did what they needed to do to dispatch the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Saturday afternoon. And at least temporarily, it pushes Pittsburgh to first place in the division

NHL: APR 24 Devils at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pregame

The Penguins use the same lineup as last game, with Casey DeSmith jumping in net for the first day of a back-to-back situation.

First period

Pittsburgh gets the game’s first goal. Some poor defending by Will Butcher gets himself all twisted around and Jeff Carter basically just takes the puck from Jason Zucker and gets that great shot away. Carter can still really rip the puck. 1-0 Pens.

Kasperi Kapanen draws a penalty and the Pittsburgh power play cashes in quickly. Kris Letang throws a shot from the point that ends up as a loose puck. Jared McCann’s eyes lights up as he lunges to smack it into the net, seemingly a goal he’s scored a lot of lately. 2-0 Pens.

Shots in the first are 15-14 in favor of Pittsburgh. DeSmith and the returning from injury Mackenzie Blackwood for the Devils were each were good to keep it just to two goals in the opening frame.

Second period

Pittsburgh strikes again off an offensive zone faceoff. Sidney Crosby wins the puck back to Cody Ceci, Ceci shoots and the puck double deflects — first off Guentzel and then off Bryan Rust and in the net. Counts for Rust’s 20th of the season. 20! 3-0 Pens.

The Devils get on the board, Jack Hughes has been dangerous all game and he cashes in after leading a 3-on-2 rush and eventually finding the rebound in front of the net and whipping the puck past DeSmith. 3-1 Pittsburgh.

Kapanen collides with his teammate and falls face first to the ice. Very scary, Kapanen was able to get off the ice under his own power and would return to the game in the third period.

Third period

The Devils climb back in with 9:02 left on a nice play. Defenseman Ryan Murray makes a really nice hard cross-ice pass after NJ won a puck battle behind the net. Miles Wood was all alone and able to take a hard low shot. Mike Matheson compounded the issue by getting wiped out in front of the net and adding to the traffic situation and suddenly it’s a 3-2 game.

Jason Zucker stepped up and wiped out a Devil in the NZ, looked clean enough but the big kind of open ice hit you don’t see too much of these days in the NHL. Nick Merkley doesn’t let that stand and challenges Zucker to a short-lived little bout of fisticuffs.

Who knew Zucker had that in him, huh?

New Jersey uses a timeout with 52 seconds left as they have the goalie pulled and push for a last minute tie of the game. It nearly works, with Nico Hischier having one last gasp chance from right in front that goes juuuust wide. Crosby fires in a buzzer beater ENG with 0.1 seconds left for his 20th goal of the season to put a little cherry on top. 4-2

Some thoughts

  • Guentzel recorded two primary assists today, without even making a pass on either scoring play. The puck barely glanced off him on the McCann power play goal, and then Guentzel also got a piece of an incoming point shot on the Rust goal. Pretty crazy day.
  • The Pens may have dodged a bullet when Kapanen returned. He fell to the ice in a very vulnerable and nasty way going down head and face first. For a guy who just came back on Thursday (from a lower body injury) the last thing the team would like to see is losing him again.
  • Pittsburgh’s dominance in the faceoff circle today shaped the game in a major way. Two of the goals came directly from Crosby winning faceoffs, and several other shots and chances were generated there. The Pens were up above winning 70% of faceoffs early in the game and just looked like the stronger, more experienced team from the opening drops.
  • The difference in competent goaltending for New Jersey was staggering compared to the previous games. Blackwood is one of the top young goalies in the league with the way his career has started. He was unavailable due to injury for the first two games of the season, and the Pens had no trouble scoring almost at will early in games and then coasting to the win. That wasn’t the case today.
  • Kris Letang celebrated his 34th birthday with a nice relaxing afternoon skate. Syke, he played 26:15, had an assist, three shots on goal and another very solid performance.
  • The Pens close the chapter of their games against the Devils this season, ending up 6-1-1 against NJ on the year. That’ll do!
  • The degree of difficulty goes up from here, with Pittsburgh getting the next four total games with two a piece against Boston and Washington.