Penguins close in on the Rangers for top spot

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 25, 2012
Sidney Crosby scored in his second straight game and added an assist to help the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Sunday night. Crosby, who snapped out of a career-long 12-game goal drought Saturday, gave the Penguins some breathing room with a wrist shot by goalie Martin Brodeur early in the third period. It was Crosby's first goal at home since scoring twice in his season debut against the New York Islanders on Nov. 21. Evgeni Malkin also had a goal and an assist for the Penguins to push his points total to 97, tops in the NHL. Pittsburgh has won 10 straight at Consol Energy Center and moved back within a point of the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for New Jersey and Brodeur made 23 saves, but couldn't stop the slumping Devils from falling to 1-3-1 in their last five games. Crosby has been steady since his return from a second stint on the injured reserve due to concussion-like symptoms on March 15, racking up nine assists in his first five games back even as he struggled to find the back of the net with his shot. The former MVP finally broke through against Ottawa on Saturday, though his goal was the only bright spot in an 8-4 loss. Crosby's fourth goal of the season proved a little more meaningful. The Devils pulled to 3-2 on Kovalchuk's team-leading 32nd goal of the season 2:55 into the third period and were forcing the play when Crosby intercepted a pass at New Jersey's blue line, pirouetted around a defenseman then raced in all alone and beat Brodeur with a wrist shot to restore Pittsburgh's two-goal advantage. Marc-Andre Fleury made it stand up to pick up his NHL-leading 41st victory to move within one win of tying Tom Barrasso's franchise mark of 226. The Penguins needed Fleury to be sharp after arguably their worst game in three months. Pittsburgh saw its chase of the Rangers hit a speed bump on Saturday when Ottawa torched backup goaltender Brad Thiessen. The loss, coupled with New York's comeback win over Toronto put the Penguins three points back of the Rangers and just two ahead of Philadelphia in the jumbled Atlantic Division. The Devils threatened to make it a four-team race division and conference title but have stumbled over the last week and are trying to hold onto the sixth spot in the conference, which would present a favorable first-round matchup with the Southeast Division winner, likely Florida. Yet New Jersey looks vulnerable at the moment and even its star goalie isn't immune. The Penguins took the lead just 64 seconds in thanks to some sloppy stickhandling by Brodeur. He gathered the puck behind the net and was attempting a pass when Malkin swooped in and stole the puck then whipped a pass to Chris Kunitz, who fired it into a wide-open net. Pittsburgh quickly repaid the gift, with Crosby turning it over deep in his own end with Fleury badly out of position. Parise jumped on the mistake to knot things at 1. It remained tied until late in the period when Jordan Staal used his reach to collect a pass from Matt Cooke and sneak a wrist shot by Brodeur to make it 2-1. Pascal Dupuis pushed it to 3-1 in the second after he pounced on a rebound, extending his points streak to a career-best 10 games, the longest active streak in the league. Kovalchuk's goal only made it interesting for a moment. Crosby's score pushed it two before Malkin added an empty-netter late to give him 46 on the season, one off his career-high. NOTES: The teams split their six games against each other this season, finishing with a 3-3 record. . . . Pittsburgh scratched forward Steve Sullivan, who left the Ottawa game with an injury coach Dan Bylsma called ''short-term.'' . . . The Penguins begin a home-and-home set Tuesday when they host the New York Islanders. The Devils start a two-game homestand Tuesday against Chicago.
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