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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Saturday, March 17th (All times Eastern)

Pittsburgh Penguins (43-21-5) at New Jersey Devils (41-25-5), 1 p.m.

(Sports Network) - Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he didn't want his return to the lineup to mess up the chemistry his club had put together in his absence.

He doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

With the former Hart Trophy winner back in the mix, Pittsburgh continues its charge for first place in the Atlantic Division as it battles the New Jersey Devils this afternoon.

Crosby made his second anticipated return of the season on Thursday versus the division-leading Rangers. He had missed 61 straight regular-season games after suffering a concussion last January before returning to action on Nov. 21, logging two goals and two assists in his first game back. However, the return lasted only eight games before Crosby was again shelved due to concussion-like symptoms. He was also diagnosed with a soft tissue injury in his neck during his 40-game absence before finally returning to the ice.

Pittsburgh had gone 26-13-1 during Crosby's second stint on the sidelines and carried a nine-game win streak into the meeting with New York. Crosby didn't disrupt that momentum, logging two assists in a 5-2 win that pulled the Penguins to within four points of the Atlantic-leading Rangers.

"I felt pretty good. There's still some rust there and that's just going to take some time," said Crosby. "As for the timing and things like that, I felt it got a little bit better, at least it felt a little more comfortable as the game went on.

"To kind of get into a game like that, a big situation like that, the intensity and everything that comes with it, I'm just happy to get that first one over with and to keep going here."

Matt Cooke scored twice and Evgeni Malkin added his 39th goal of the season and NHL-leading 85th point for the Penguins, who also saw defenseman Kris Letang return after sitting out five straight games with a concussion. Letang logged an assist and had a game-high plus-5 rating.

Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 29 shots for a Pittsburgh club that hasn't lost since Feb. 19 in Buffalo and is on its longest winning streak since taking 12 straight from Nov. 17-Dec. 11 of last season.

The Penguins sit fourth overall in the East, two points ahead of a Flyers club it will visit on Sunday. The sixth-place Devils are two points behind Philadelphia and are coming off Thursday's 1-0 shootout win over the Avalanche.

Martin Brodeur made 28 saves in his second shutout of the season and 118th of his career. He stopped both skaters he faced in the shootout, while Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise scored in succession in the tiebreaker.

Kovalchuk set a new single-season NHL record with his seventh shootout winner of the season. The forward said he has gotten advice from Brodeur this season on improving his shootout game.

"I was never really good (in shootouts) and even last year I was struggling," Kovalchuk said. "But this year, I talked to Marty actually and he told me a couple of secrets being a goalie. He told me what angles I should take to get more options, and it's working for sure."

New Jersey bounced back from a 3-0 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday to win for the fifth time in six games. It has outscored its opponents 14-3 over a four- game winning streak at home, where it hasn't lost since Feb. 26.

The Penguins took the first of six matchups between the teams this year, but the Devils have countered with three straight wins by an 11-4 margin. New Jersey picked up a 5-2 victory when the rivals last battled in the Garden State on Feb. 5, giving it a victory in four straight and eight of its past nine at home versus Pittsburgh.

03/17 10:30:11 ET

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