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Penguins Overcome Slow Start, Still Fall to Devils, 5-2



NEWARK, N.J. — The Pittsburgh Penguins like to believe they are still serious contenders for a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs and, given how often some of their rivals for a spot are losing, they might not be wrong.

But if they’re going to qualify for postseason play, the Penguins are probably going to have to string together a few victories, which is something they haven’t managed to do since winning three in a row in late February.

New Jersey beat them, 5-2, at Prudential Center Tuesday night and, in the process, moved one point ahead of the Penguins in the competition for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

The victory was just the Devils’ third in their past 10 games.

The Penguins (30-29-9) played without fourth-line right winger Jeff Carter, who has an unspecified upper-body injury. His place in the lineup was taken by Jonathan Gruden, who was recalled from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day.

As has been the case so often in recent years, the Penguins at times struggled to cope with the Devils’ team speed.

The Penguins started the game as if they had only casual interest in the outcome, routinely turning the puck over and giving the Devils a series of quality scoring chances.

New Jersey finally capitalized on one at 5:35, when Dawson Mercer got past Penguins defenseman Ryan Graves and put a backhander between the legs of goalie Tristan Jarry.

It was just the 20th time in 69 games this season that New Jersey has had a 1-0 lead.

The Pittsburgh Penguins elevated their play as the period progressed — it’s hard to believe they could have lowered it — and they had a couple of exquisite chances to pull even during a flurry with a little more than a minute to go before the intermission.

Devils goalie Jake Allen made a pair of sensational stops then, with a remarkable lunging stop on Sidney Crosby, who appeared to have a mostly open net, and following that by denying Marcus Pettersson a second or so later.

New Jersey hit a couple of goalposts early in the second period, and Allen preserved their lead by denying Bryan Rust from the right hash at 6:17.

Less than a minute later, however, Marcus Pettersson scored on the Penguins’ 19th shot to tie the game, driving a shot past Allen from the left side of the slot. Michael Bunting and Rickard Rakell got the assists.

The Penguins got the first power play of the game when Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl tripped Rust at 8:34, but they were unable to generate a go-ahead goal.

New Jersey finally got a chance with the extra man after Evgeni Malkin was sent off for hooking at 13:30, and made the most of it, as Timo Meier deflected a Luke Hughes shot out of the air and past Jarry 50 seconds later.

The Devils put the game away with a pair of goals in a 16-second span as the middle of the third period approached.

Alexander Holtz punched in a Jack Hughes rebound at 8:58 and Tomas Nosek set up Mercer with a basically empty net at 9:14 as New Jersey’s lead swelled to 4-1.

Luke Hughes was penalized for interference at 12:48, but the Penguins again were unable to score.

Meier got his second man-advantage goal of the game at 16:53, when he knocked another puck out of mid-air and into the net.

Rust pared the the Devils’ lead to 5-2 with his 21st of the season at 17:14, off an assist by Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Wednesday. They plan to practice Thursday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before traveling to Dallas for a game against the Stars Friday.