NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, March 17th (All times eastern)
Pittsburgh Penguins (41-23-5) at New Jersey Devils (41-24-3), 7 p.m.
(Sports Network) - A huge battle in the Atlantic Division race is on tap tonight in Newark, pitting the host New Jersey Devils against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Prudential Center.
The Penguins, of course, are the defending Stanley Cup champions and come into tonight with a two-point edge over the Devils for the division lead. New Jersey, however, won the Atlantic title last season and has taken the crown in three of the past four years.
The Atlantic lead also comes with the inside track on the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With 87 points, Pittsburgh is 16 behind Washington for the top spot and five points ahead of third-seeded Buffalo.
The Devils should be comforted by the fact that they have absolutely dominated Pittsburgh this season and could sweep the season series tonight. New Jersey has outscored the Pens by a 17-3 margin over the five matchups this year and posted a 3-1 victory when the clubs met in Newark last week. Ilya Kovalchuk notched a goal and two assists and Martin Brodeur stopped 34 shots to lead the Devils in that victory.
New Jersey has taken six of seven and eight of 11 overall in the series, while Pittsburgh has dropped three straight and four of its last five in the Garden State.
The Pens also come into tonight with an injury concern to a major point producer in forward Evgeni Malkin, who suffered a foot injury after getting hit with a shot in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. An X-ray revealed that Malkin, who has 69 points this season, suffered no broken bones, but he is still questionable for tonight.
Pittsburgh captain and leading scorer Sidney Crosby also twisted his right leg on Sunday, but was able to return later in the game. Crosby practiced on Tuesday, but Malkin did not.
"Geno is day-to-day." Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said of Malkin on Tuesday. "He's going with us tomorrow."
The Devils have split two games since Friday's meeting with Pittsburgh, beating visiting Boston in a close regulation decision on Monday. Zach Parise scored the eventual game-winner late in the first period, leading the Devils to the 3-2 victory at the Rock.
David Clarkson had a goal and an assist for the Devils, who have won three of their last four outings. Rob Niedermayer also lit the lamp and Brodeur made 34 saves.
"As a team were starting to mold and that's when it gets exciting," Clarkson said. "This is when you're going into war. This is the playoffs coming up. I believe we have a group of guys that I would take everyone of them with me."
The Devils have won their last four games on home ice and come into tonight with a superb 23-9-1 record as the host this year.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh comes into tonight with a 1-1-1 record so far on a five- game road trip that ends Thursday in Boston. Overall, the Pens have a strong 20-13-2 record as the guest, but they have lost four of six away from the Steel City.
The Penguins have played only Sunday's game in Tampa since losing to the Devils. Sergei Gonchar notched the game-winning score early in the third period to lift Pittsburgh to the 2-1 decision over the Lightning.
Pascal Dupuis also tallied for the Penguins, who snapped a two-game slide and won for the fifth time in seven games. Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves in the victory,
"It's one of those games where they are battling for the playoffs and they played like they wanted it," Dupuis said of Sunday's win. "We came out not expecting that, we had a big push early in the third to win the game."
03/17 10:33:08 ET