Penguins 6, Devils 3

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—This is exactly how the Pittsburgh Penguins envisioned Sidney Crosby taking over a game. What they wouldn’t have imagined was Crosby doing so alongside Andy Hilbert, Niklas Nordgren and Jani Rita, instead of Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi and Ziggy Palffy.

Crosby, suddenly one of Pittsburgh’s most experienced players, helped chase Martin Brodeur by late in the second period with two goals and an assist during the overhauled Penguins’ 6-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.

The Penguins responded to trading deadline deals that sent away their second-leading scorer, Recchi, and defenseman Ric Jackman among others with their best performance since they beat the Devils—without Brodeur—6-2 on Dec. 29.

“Everything clicked,” Crosby said. “Everything was working together, and we did all the little things. We played with a lot of confidence.”

Brodeur had won six in a row in Pittsburgh since Nov. 27, 2001, only to be pulled after allowing six goals on 16 shots in his 26th consecutive start. While the Penguins hadn’t played since Wednesday, the Devils won 4-3 at Washington in a shootout Friday night.

“I don’t think we were ready at the start of the game,” Devils defenseman Tommy Albelin said. “It was one of those games. It can’t happen. It shouldn’t happen. But sometimes it does.”

Sometimes, even when the worst-in-the-league Penguins are the opponent.

The Penguins, especially Crosby, looked to have far more jump from the start and led 3-1 midway through the first period and 6-1 early in the second, when Brodeur was pulled.

Crosby scored his 30th of the season 42 seconds into the game off Sergei Gonchar’s excellent pass and set up Ryan Malone’s short-handed goal less than four minutes in. On that goal, Crosby knocked down Gonchar’s pass while skating toward the net and Malone tipped it in for his 16th.

Crosby is only 18 but, with Lemieux and Palffy now retired and Recchi traded to Carolina on Thursday, he has been in Pittsburgh longer than 12 of the 20 Penguins who dressed Saturday.

“We had a lot of new faces, but guys had the right attitude,” Crosby said.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played one of his strongest games all season, stopping 38 shots for only his third victory in 19 games. No doubt it helped the Penguins got an unaccustomed early lead, something they’ve rarely done while winning only 15 games.

“We played hard and got a couple of goals early,” Fleury said. “It was great to see.”

Andy Hilbert, playing his first game for Pittsburgh after being claimed from the Blackhawks, also had a goal—his first in 17 games, or since he scored twice against the Penguins on Jan. 13—and an assist.

Crosby made it 5-1 slightly more than three minutes into the second on a power play, taking John LeClair’s pass to score from the edge of the left circle. With 72 points in the Penguins’ 64 games, Crosby has a chance to become the second player in NHL history to have a 100-point season at age 18. Dale Hawerchuk was the only one to do it.

New Jersey is sixth in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of Tampa Bay, but couldn’t pick up two key points against a team that was 0-4 since the Olympic break, 0-4-2 in its last six home games and had lost 11 of 12 in Pittsburgh.

“For whatever reason, our heads weren’t in the game,” coach Lou Lamoriello said. “We had legs, even though it was the second night. We just made mental mistakes, and then couldn’t recover from it.”

Notes

Crosby’s season high is four points against Washington on Jan. 25. … Scott Clemmensen stopped all 10 shots he faced after replacing Brodeur following Colby Armstrong’s second goal of the season 5:29 into the second. Clemmensen hasn’t started since that Dec. 29 loss in Pittsburgh. … The Penguins, playing their 64th game, avoided their 50th loss, counting shootouts and overtimes. … Brodeur is three wins away from tying Jacques Plante for fourth place in NHL history with 434 career wins. … John Madden, Erik Rasmussen and Jamie Langenbrunner scored for New Jersey.

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Three Stars

  Game Winning Goal
A. Hilbert A. Hilbert
Pittsburgh Penguins
Scored at 17:46 of 1st

Goaltending

Goalie Team Shot Save
Martin Brodeur NJ 16 10
Scott Clemmensen Fla 10 10