Pascal Dupuis scored two goals, including an empty-netter with a minute left to play, to pace the Penguins to a 4-2 victory over New Jersey. The win pulled the Pens to within a point of the Atlantic Division-leading Flyers and reestablished a three-point bulge over Tampa Bay in the battle for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Pens broke on top late in an evenly played first period with a rare power play goal. At 17:37, Jordan Staal gathered in a pass from James Neal at the blue line, cut around Devils defender Mark Fraser and snapped the puck past former Pens netminder Johan Hedberg. Alexei Kovalev, who started the play in the neutral zone, was credited with the second assist.
New Jersey evened the score at 15:08 of the second period when David Steckel picked up a feed from Rod Pelley in the slot and beat Marc-Andre Fleury. Remembering Steckel’s blindside hit on Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic, the sellout throng at the CONSOL Energy Center showered the former Caps forward with a chorus of boos.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Steckel said afterward.
A minute later the raspberries turned to cheers. Max Talbot fired a quick shot that bounced off Hedberg’s pads. Dupuis scooped up the loose puck and slipped it through the five-hole for his 15th goal of the season.
Chris Kunitz staked the Pens to a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead early in the third period. The gritty winger took a pass from Tyler Kennedy in the left face-off circle, made a bee-line for the net and slipped a backhander beneath Hedberg. However, the Devils made a game of it when veteran Brian Rolston blew a long-range slap shot past Fleury at 4:32.
Staal, who registered two assists for the evening, provided some drama in the closing moments when he was whistled off for tripping with 1:41 left. Forty seconds later Dupuis applied the coup de grace when rifled the puck past a sprawling Hedberg, who was in the process of skating to the bench for an extra attacker.
“We are within striking distance of the division,” Dupuis said, “and it’s great to be right there. It’s a matter of winning games, and hopefully other teams will lose.”
The Penguins won the season series with the Devils 4-2 … The power-play goal was the team’s fourth in 21 games … The Pens played before their 206th consecutive sellout crowd on Fan Appreciation Night … Arron Asham returned to the lineup after missing two games with a lower body injury … Mike Comrie, Deryk Engelland and Eric Godard were healthy scratches.
The Penguins return to the scene of the crime Friday night when they visit the Islanders in Uniondale. It marks the first meeting between the two clubs since their infamous battle royale on February 11.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.