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Pens host Devils in key Eastern battle

The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to bounce back from a poor defensive effort when they host the New Jersey Devils tonight in an important Eastern Conference battle at Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh entered Saturday's game in Ottawa with a 13-0-1 record in its previous 14 games, but the Penguins were cooled off in an 8-4 rout by the hometown Senators.

The Penguins are now three points behind the New York Rangers for first place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Rangers are idle today after posting a shootout victory Saturday in Toronto.

Pittsburgh is also two points in front of Philadelphia for the fourth seed in the East. The Flyers are also off on Sunday.

Matt Cooke scored twice in Saturday's loss for Pittsburgh, which suffered its first regulation setback since February 19. Penguins rookie goaltender Brad Thiessen was beaten eight times on 28 shots. Regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be back in net tonight.

"Teams are going to be desperate from here on in so we have got to expect tough games and really make sure our game is where it needs to be heading into the playoffs," Penguins forward Sidney Crosby said.

The Penguins are 26-8-2 as the host this year and have won nine straight in the Steel City.

Meanwhile, New Jersey enters today's action trailing Philadelphia by six points for the fifth seed in the East. Seventh-seeded Ottawa, which is idle today, is four points in back of the Devils.

The Devils will try to get back on track tonight after losing three of four and four of their last six games (2-3-1). New Jersey hopes to get a boost from forward Travis Zajac, who could play today for the first time since early January.

Zajac has been sidelined with a sore Achilles tendon since Jan. 2, but he was a game-time decision for Friday's game against Toronto and the 26-year-old was centering a line with wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky at practice on Saturday. Zajac has one goal and two assists in eight games this season after posting 13 goals and 44 points in 82 games in 2010-11.

New Jersey posted an important 1-0 regulation win in Ottawa on Tuesday, but then lost Friday's shootout decision to visiting Toronto.

Nazem Kadri scored in the third round of the shootout to lift the Maple Leafs to the 4-3 decision. New Jersey did well to get a point, however, as Toronto held a 3-1 lead after David Steckel's goal at 9:25 of the third period. Zach Parise scored just 92 seconds after Steckel to make it a 3-2 game and Adam Henrique potted the equalizer with 4:42 left in regulation.

Jacob Josefson also scored for the Devils, while Martin Brodeur stopped 14- of-17 shots in the loss.

New Jersey outshot the Maple Leafs, 4-0, in the overtime and the first four players scored in the shootout phase. Patrik Elias was then stopped by Toronto goaltender James Reimer to begin the third round before Kadri faked a backhand and slid the puck past Brodeur for the game-winner.

"He [Kadri] came so close to me and turned on a dime and went right around me," Brodeur said. "You've got to give him credit."

The Devils are 22-14-2 as the road team this season. New Jersey had lost four straight in Pittsburgh before posting a 3-1 win at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 7. The Devils have taken three of five from the Penguins this season and the clubs have split the last eight encounters in the Steel City.

Tonight's game marks the final regular-season test between the Devils and Pens this year.

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