PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Seven days after all but conceding the Atlantic Division to Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t so sure now.
Pascal Dupuis had two goals and the Penguins moved a point behind the Flyers in the division race—and closer to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs—with a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz also scored for Pittsburgh in its regular season home finale, moving three points ahead of fifth-place Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference standings with two games to play. The Lightning lost 4-2 at Buffalo.
The Penguins have 102 points, one less than Philadelphia, which won in Pittsburgh 5-2 on March 29 but has lost four consecutive since—including 5-2 at Ottawa on Tuesday.
“Once we didn’t get the win against Philly, did I anticipate getting back to one point against them? No,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have to pick up two in two games to overtake them now, but it’s a lot closer than I thought it’d be.”
The Penguins remained three points behind conference-leading Washington, which won 3-2 in a shootout at Toronto.
“We are within striking distance for the division, and it’s great to be right there,” Dupuis said. “But all we can control is our own destiny and what we do on the ice. It’s a matter of winning games, and hopefully other teams will lose.”
David Steckel and Brian Rolston scored for the Devils, who were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since 1996 with their defeat to Montreal on Saturday.
New Jersey was shut out in its previous two road games, and the Penguins-Devils season series had featured a total of only 12 goals in the five previous games.
“Two goals a lot of times has been enough for us to win,” Rolston said. “But obviously, you’ve got to score more goals, too.”
Staal scored Pittsburgh’s fourth power play goal in the past 21 games with 2:23 left in the first—but it was hardly a traditional power-play goal. James Neal left the puck for Staal at the blue line, and Staal skated down the left wing, beat Mark Fraser to net and lifted the puck up over sprawling goalie Johan Hedberg for his 11th goal of the season.
“It’s a good feeling,” Staal said of still having a shot at a division title. “But we’re still just trying to win games and take control of what we can do rather than worry about the standings.”
Steckel tied it at 1 with 4:52 left in the second, New Jersey’s first goal on the road in a span of 209 minutes 3 seconds.
Fans booed lustily when it was announced it was Steckel that had scored. Steckel—then with Washington—collided with Penguins star Sidney Crosby in the outdoor game at Heinz Field on Jan. 1. The hit is believed to be what caused a concussion for Crosby that has had him miss the past 39 games.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Steckel said of the booing.
Steckel’s goal was his first in 16 games since being traded to New Jersey.
Dupuis regained the lead for the Penguins 63 seconds later, and Kunitz made it 3-1 at 1:31 of the third on a set up by Tyler Kennedy.
The goal was the 23rd for Kunitz, second on the team to Crosby’s 32.
But three minutes later Rolston pulled New Jersey back to 3-2 with a one-timed slap shot from the high slot, his 14th.
Patrik Elias earned his team-high 40th assist on the play, extending his point streak to four games.
The Devils were awarded a power play after Staal took a tripping penalty with 1:41 left—and coach Jacques Lemaire motioned to pull Hedberg about 20 seconds later. But Hedberg quickly turned around as soon as he reached the bench, not early enough to prevent Dupuis from shooting the puck into the open net.
“We battled back,” Hedberg said. “We came back to 3-2 and had a chance to tie it up with a power play at the end. It didn’t happen. With three games to go here; we’ve got to keep going and be a proud bunch of hockey players.”
NOTES: New Jersey LW Zach Parise did not play a game after playing on Saturday for the first time since November surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Parise said he did not experience a setback Saturday; instead, team officials are taking a cautious approach with the Devils also playing on Wednesday. … Pittsburgh RW Alex Kovalev played in his 1,300th game. … Crosby again took part in what was a light gameday skate. Fans cheered when he was shown on the video scoreboard during the first period in a taped message thanking fans on Fan Appreciation Night. There remains no update to his playing status—or even when or if he might participate in a full-contact practice. … Pittsburgh sold out the season for the fourth consecutive year. … Penguins LW Dustin Jeffrey had surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained March 24.