Throw in the absences of Colby Armstrong (flu) and Tyler Kennedy (mononucleosis) and a pair of one-goal deficits, and it didn't seem likely the Penguins would have much of a chance to rally against the New Jersey Devils.
Ryan Malone scored two goals, Erik Christensen had a goal and assist during Pittsburgh's three-goal second period, and former Devils forward Petr Sykora had two assists to lift the Penguins to a 4-2 win over New Jersey on Tuesday night.
"It shows we don't give up," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "I think we've got everyone doubting us in the whole hockey world right now. It's an honor and a privilege for us to play well. It's something we've got to go out and prove that we can do."
In the first game for both teams following the All-Star break, the Penguins defeated the Devils for the fifth straight time in New Jersey.
Jordan Staal got Pittsburgh even at 1 early in the second and Christensen and Malone struck less than 2 minutes apart to put the Penguins in front. Ty Conklin made 23 saves to improve to 11-2-2 since joining the team following Fleury's ankle injury in December.
Malone added a power-play goal 5:21 into the third to make it 4-2 for the Penguins, 2-1-1 since Crosby's injury. Pittsburgh passed the Devils into second place in the Atlantic Division, one point behind Philadelphia.
"It's big. It's a battle for the first spot even though there are a lot of games left," Malone said.
|Penguins left wing Ryan Malone (12) shoots the puck and scores off a rebound on New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) in the second period at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, on Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)|
That sent the Devils to their fourth loss in six games, each defeat coming at home. The visiting team has won all five meetings this season with New Jersey taking three in Pittsburgh.
"It's huge. We had to get a win here," Whitney said. "We played a smart game and we got out of here with two points."
New Jersey, which played without captain Jamie Langenbrunner (flu), wasted the fourth career two-goal effort from forward Mike Rupp, who had no points in 35 games. Martin Brodeur stopped 23 shots.
"Obviously, it was a great opportunity for us to get some big points and get on top of the division," forward Sergei Brylin said. "We've just got to shape up and get ready to go again."
Just like a 4-3 home loss to Montreal on Thursday, the Devils were done in by a bad period. New Jersey coach Brent Sutter punished his team with a long bike ride after the Devils were outshot 20-3 in the third and squandered a 3-1 lead.
This one didn't make him happy, either.
"We haven't stayed within our game. We've had mental breakdowns," Sutter said. "When our team is playing well it is because our detail to our game is very good. Right now it isn't where it needs to be."
Despite recording only 10 shots in the second, the Penguins went ahead. After Staal tied it 1-1 at 1:12 on Pittsburgh's first shot, Christensen and Malone beat Brodeur 1:32 apart to make it 3-2.
Maxime Talbot and Christensen teamed up for some one-handed magic, tying it at 14:41. Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya tried to send the puck behind the net but hit the side of the cage.
Talbot used one hand to sweep the puck in front to Christensen, who moved it to his backhand and used his long right-handed reach to poke it past Brodeur.
The disappointed crowd, sparse at best in the Prudential Center, still buzzed when the Devils fell behind with 3:47 left. Evgeni Malkin passed the puck behind the net to Sykora, who sent the puck off Brodeur's stick to Malone for a quick shot that made it 3-2.
"That's the way we know we have to play especially at the end of the year when you're going to get a lot of these tight, close games in the division," Conklin said. "It was a good way for us to start the stretch drive."
Rupp had put the Devils ahead 2-1 with his 23rd NHL goal 52 seconds before Christensen's goal.
The fifth-year forward, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Devils in Game 7 of the 2003 finals, notched his first of this season during rare power-play time. The 6-foot-5 center scored to make it 1-0 at 8:54 with his first goal since March 30, 2007.
"Obviously, it's been a long time," Rupp said. "The last 10, 12 games, it felt like I have had opportunities and it feels good to finally put them in, I guess."
Notes: New Jersey RW Cam Janssen, out all season following shoulder surgery, was scratched one day after being recalled from an AHL conditioning assignment. ... Armstrong is expected to miss Wednesday night's game at Atlanta. ... The Penguins won their only other visit to Newark 5-0 on Nov. 5 and will be back Monday.