The Pittsburgh Penguins have no reason to lack confidence as they again rank as one of the league’s best teams after winning the Stanley Cup last season.
All that success, however, seems to be rendered meaningless when the New Jersey Devils are the opponent.
Pittsburgh looks to avoid getting swept in a season series by their Atlantic Division rivals for the first time when the teams meet at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.
Either Pittsburgh or New Jersey has won the Atlantic each of the past four years, and it appears this season will follow suit with the Devils (41-24-3) trailing the first-place Penguins (41-23-5) by two points.
New Jersey has won all five meetings and is one win away from sweeping Pittsburgh in a season series for the first time since the franchise entered the NHL as the Kansas City Scouts in 1974-75.
That dominance continued Friday as Martin Brodeur(notes) and Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) led the Devils to a 3-1 victory. Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists and Brodeur made 15 of his 34 saves in the third period.
“There is no explanation for it,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “You need a little luck. But when you do well against one team, it builds confidence and you think you can play at that level all the time.”
Brodeur will be in net again Wednesday looking to continue his recent mastery of the Penguins. He has allowed three goals in five starts against them this season, recording shutouts in two of the last three.
“He’s Martin Brodeur, so you can’t expect him not to play well,” said Penguins star center Sidney Crosby(notes), who has one goal and two assists in the season series. “He gets up for games like this and gives a little something extra. Whether he considers it a challenge or not, I don’t know, but he just plays well.”
Brodeur has helped hold Evgeni Malkin(notes)—Pittsburgh’s other star forward— without a point in the season series. Malkin, though, may not play Wednesday after injuring either a foot or ankle in Sunday’s 2-1 road win over Tampa Bay.
While not solely to blame for his team’s inability to beat New Jersey, Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) has been far from sharp in four starts against the Devils, going 0-4-0 with a 4.04 goals-against average after he was 2-0-2 with a 1.69 GAA last season.
Friday’s loss is Pittsburgh’s only regulation defeat in seven games since the Olympic break (5-1-1) and it is 47-13-5 the past four years in the regular season after March 1.
New Jersey rebounded from a 4-2 loss to the last-place Islanders on Saturday by scoring three times in the first period Monday en route to a 3-2 victory over visiting Boston. David Clarkson(notes) had a goal and an assist as the Devils closed the gap in the Atlantic with their fourth straight home win.
“You always look at the standings when your team is not winning,” Lemaire said. “When you’re winning, you don’t have to.”
Kovalchuk has started to heat up after a slow start with his new team. He has five goals and five assists in his last nine games after failing to record a point in three of his first four with the Devils.