PITTSBURGH – Unlike the home-ice ceremony that will honour him on Friday, this wasn’t Martin Brodeur’s night as he lost 6-1 Wednesday night to Pittsburgh.
Brodeur and the Devils extended a late-season slump (0-5-1) that is jeopardizing their high playoff seeding. Brodeur had allowed six goals against the Penguins only once previously, on March 11, 2006, in Pittsburgh during a 6-3 Penguins victory.
Brodeur, the NHL career victories leader who will be recognized Friday for breaking Patrick Roy’s record, hasn’t won in six starts since going 9-1 following his return from a biceps injury.
Pittsburgh scored early and often in this one, a rare rout of their longtime rivals.
Matt Cooke and Bill Guerin scored 36 seconds apart in the first period to make it 2-0, and Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal made the game one-sided by scoring in a 13-second span of the second, pushing Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-1.
“We wanted to jump on them early, they had lost a few in a row there, and make it so they can’t go into their shutdown mode when they get in the lead,” defenceman Mark Eaton said.
“We carried the play in the first five or 10 minutes, got a couple of goals, and never allowed them to get much momentum.”
Especially Brodeur, who is 33-24 with four ties against Pittsburgh.
“It wasn’t easy for anybody. You could see the puck had eyes all night,” Brodeur said. “It was just the way it went all night. I just wanted to get it out of the system and stay in the net.”
The Penguins finished 6-1-1 during the longest homestand in franchise history, improving to 13-1-2 since Feb. 25, when they were in danger of missing the playoffs.
Now, they’re tied in points with Philadelphia for the fourth spot and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“That’s the thing we’re trying to chase right now – we’re not worrying about people tying to catch us, we’re trying to catch Philly,” said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 24 shots and picked up an assist on Guerin’s goal. “We want to keep winning.
“That would be huge, home-ice advantage.”
The Penguins have been in Pittsburgh to play or practice for three consecutive weeks, and they took made the most of it.
“We wanted to take advantage of it, we said that from the start, it was a good scenario but we still had some games to win,” Crosby said. “We did a great job here, now we’ve got to keep going.”
The Devils were pushing Boston for first place in the conference before their slide, which has dropped them three points behind second-place Washington.
New Jersey has been outscored 22-7 during a slump that caused coach Brent Sutter to tell his players “the foot is down … enough’s enough” during an extended team meeting Tuesday.
“We’re going through something that’s not an easy thing to go through,” Sutter said after the latest loss. “We’re dealing with it, we’re going through it. That’s the best way to put it. We’ll deal with it.
“It’s the hand we’ve dealt ourselves.”
Evgeni Malkin’s goal, his 34th, came on a hard wrist shot from the right circle late in the first with Devils players in front and back of him and gave him a NHL-high 108 points.
Some fans in the 106th consecutive sellout crowd at Mellon Arena began chanting “MVP, MVP.”
Crosby’s 30th goal was only his second on the power play in 56 games, a deflection of Kris Letang’s shot from the left circle. Crosby also had an assist, leaving him one point short of his third 100-point season in four seasons.
The game between division rivals that could meet in the playoffs had the chippiness of a post-season game.
In the first period, the Devils’ Dainius Zubrus charged across the ice to attempt to level defenceman Brooks Orpik after Orpik put his stick out and tripped Zubrus as the forward skated up ice.
Orpik drew interference and roughing penalties, and Zubrus was called for roughing.
Crosby and New Jersey’s Bobby Holik exchanged words as the teams left the ice at the end of the second period, and Pittsburgh’s Hal Gill and the Devils’ David Clarkson also got into a verbal exchange.
Sutter drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and Crosby was called for roughing 26 seconds into the third period.
Clarkson and the 38-year-old Guerin traded punches later in the third.
Notes: Pittsburgh is 15-2-3 under interim coach Dan Bylsma and 12-2-1 in its last 15 at home, causing Sutter to say, “They’re a different team.” … The teams split their six-game season series, with Pittsburgh losing once in overtime. … New Jersey hadn’t lost six in a row since November 2000. … Crosby has scored at least one point in 16 consecutive games, although the NHL recognizes it as only as 12-game streak because he was injured for four games. … Brodeur wasn’t pulled, Sutter said, because the 50-game injury layoff significantly decreased the goalie’s playing time.