Posted March 25, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Pittsburgh Penguins are in contention for the Eastern Conference's top seed with seven games remaining. Another solid defensive effort against the New Jersey Devils could improve their chances. Coming off their first regulation loss in over a month, Pittsburgh looks to bounce back by earning its 10th consecutive home victory Sunday night when it faces New Jersey. The Penguins fell 8-4 to Ottawa on Saturday, dropping them to 13-1-1 over their last 15 games. They hadn't lost in regulation since a 6-2 defeat in Buffalo on Feb. 19. Pittsburgh (46-22-6) fell three points behind the East-leading New York Rangers - who beat Toronto 4-3 in a shootout - but it can close the gap by avoiding its first home loss since a 2-1 defeat to Anaheim on Feb. 15. The Penguins have won 15 of 16 at Consol Energy Center since Jan. 17. Sidney Crosby scored his first goal in six games since returning to the lineup from post concussion-related symptoms and also added an assist. ''You never want to lose but you also don't want to get away with the kind of mistakes that we made tonight,'' Crosby said. ''Teams are going to be desperate from here on in so we've got to expect tough games and really make sure our game is where it needs to be heading into the playoffs.'' Matt Cooke scored twice and has seven goals in six games while playing on Crosby's line, including a two-goal effort in a 5-2 victory March 17 in the most recent meeting with New Jersey. Crosby had three assists, and NHL points leader Evgeni Malkin added a goal and an assist in that contest as the Penguins outshot the Devils 44-14. It marked the second-fewest shots this season for New Jersey, which has won three of the five meetings this season despite being outscored 14-13 and outshot 175-111. The Devils managed a season-high 46 shots Friday but still fell 4-3 to Toronto in a shootout. New Jersey (42-27-6) is comfortably in sixth place in the East despite going 2-3-1 in their last six games. "You can't overreact or read too much into results right now," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got to keep moving forward and keep improving." Martin Brodeur made 14 saves, but he allowed all three Toronto shooters to score in the shootout and fell to 1-3-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average in his last five starts. ''It's a big point,'' Brodeur said. ''We're moving toward the playoffs. We'll take every point. It could have been better but we'll take that point.'' Brodeur made 39 saves in the last meeting versus Pittsburgh, but it marked the first time in 14 starts he had allowed more than two goals. He is 11-2-1 with a 1.20 GAA and four shutouts in that span. Brodeur will be in net again Sunday when he's opposed by Marc-Andre Fleury, who got Saturday off. Fleury, one of the favorites for the Vezina Trophy, is 11-0-1 with a 1.72 GAA in his last 12 starts. He made 12 saves in the last meeting with the Devils to end a three-start losing streak against them. New Jersey won 3-1 in Pittsburgh on Jan. 7 to end a four-game road losing streak in the series.
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