Sports

Devils take on Penguins seeking 3rd straight win

(SportsNetwork.com) - The New Jersey Devils will try to record their first three-game winning streak since the opening week of the season when they host the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins in Thursday's battle at Prudential Center.

New Jersey beat San Jose 5-2 in its final tilt before the All-Star break and followed that road victory with Wednesday's shootout victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The recent triumphs marks only the fourth time the Devils have posted consecutive wins since opening the season 3-0 from Oct. 9-14.

Although picking up a third straight win tonight would be nice, the Devils would still have plenty of work to do in order to get back into the playoff race. New Jersey is currently 14 points behind the New York Rangers for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

While the Devils are hoping to gain momentum tonight, the Penguins are aiming to get back on track after losing five of their last six games.

Despite the recent rough patch, the Pens are still second in the Metropolitan Division and sit three points behind the New York Islanders. Pittsburgh also is three points ahead of third-place Washington.

The Pens began their post-All-Star break schedule with Tuesday's 5-3 win over visiting Winnipeg, but were dealt a 4-0 loss the following night at Washington. Alex Ovechkin scored twice for the Capitals and Braden Holtby made 27 stops for the shutout victory.

The setback marked only the fourth time this season Pittsburgh has been shut out and the last two times have come against the Capitals. Holtby also helped Washington blank the Penguins, 3-0, on Dec. 27 in the Steel City.

Marc-Andre Fleury allowed all four goals on 36 shots in the loss.

The Penguins fell to 1-3-2 in their last six despite getting captain Sidney Crosby back from a lower-body injury which kept him from participating in All- Star weekend.

"We had a few opportunities but we need to create more if we want to win a game," said Crosby.

Although Crosby returned on Wednesday, fellow star forward Evgeni Malkin, who also skipped the All-Star festivities due to a lower-body injury, sat out a third straight game. Malkin, who is tied with Crosby for the team lead in points with 51, is likely to miss his fourth consecutive tilt on Friday.

Maxim Lapierre made his Penguins debut in the recent loss and the defensive forward logged 14 minutes, 15 seconds of ice time. Lapierre was acquired in a trade with St. Louis on Tuesday, with forward Marcel Goc going to the Blues.

The Devils recorded a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, as Patrik Elias registered the winner in the shootout.

Adam Larsson scored in regulation for the Devils, while Cory Schneider came up with 29 saves in regulation and two in the shootout.

"It wasn't a pretty game but Schneider, without question, played outstanding throughout," Devils interim coach Lou Lamoriello said.

New Jersey plays tonight just one day after former franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur announced his retirement. Brodeur called it a career at a Thursday press conference in St. Louis after spending 21 stellar seasons with the Devils and seven games this season with the Blues.

Brodeur, a future Hall of Famer who led New Jersey to three Stanley Cup titles, was 3-3-0 with a 2.87 goals-against average and one shutout during his brief stint in St. Louis. He will remain with the St. Louis organization as the senior advisor to the general manager.

Tonight's test is the second contest of a five-game homestand for the Devils, who are 8-7-6 as the host. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is 10-6-5 on the road compared to a 17-7-3 mark at home.

The Pens won the first two of five regular-season meetings with the Devils in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-3 score, but New Jersey posted a 3-1 home win when the clubs last met on Dec. 29. The Devils have won five in a row and 13 of their past 15 home games versus the Pens.

Schneider will make his 43rd start of the season tonight. He is just 1-4-0 with a 2.81 goals against average in his career against Pittsburgh.

Fleury expects to go for the Pens and is 19-23-4 with a 2.46 GAA in this matchup.