PITTSBURGH -- Some suggested that it was a bad omen for the Pittsburgh Penguins to be playing against the New Jersey Devils on Friday the 13th. That theory was quickly debunked as the Penguins scored in the first minute of the game, one of three first-period goals, en route to a 3-2 victory.
The win pushed the Penguins' home winning streak to a season-high seven games despite being mostly outplayed for the game's final 40 minutes. "I think we're a pretty good team, we've just got to get our minds into it from the start of the game and start skating right off the hop and when we do that, when we play 60 minutes, we can play against anybody," said New Jersey center Dainius Zubrus.
The game also marked the possible final visit to Pittsburgh for future Hall of Famer and current New Jersey Devils right winger Jaromir Jagr, who spent the first 11 seasons of his career as a Penguin and ranks second only to Mario Lemieux on the team's all-time points list. Jagr finished the night with one assist.
Just 41 seconds into the game, the Penguins pounced on a rebound and stuffed it past Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Left winger Chris Kunitz dumped the puck in on net from the neutral zone, but the fluttering puck handcuffed Schneider. It appeared to the 18,582 in attendance that Schneider had frozen the puck, but forward Pascal Dupuis and the officials saw that the puck was still loose. Dupuis rushed in to stuff the puck over the goal line. "Obviously, just an inexcusable goal; that can't happen at this level," said Schneider. "It's not fair to my teammates to put them down 40 seconds into the game."
Pittsburgh went ahead by a pair at the 7:55 mark of the first when center Brandon Sutter took a hit along the right-wing boards to make a pass to streaking right winger Chris Conner, who was skating unobstructed toward the net. Conner glided into the slot and then beat Schneider with a hard wrist shot.
The Penguins made it 3-0 when center Jayson Megna, positioned near the bottom of the right wing faceoff circle, took the rebound of a shot from defenseman Simon Despres and wristed it off the right post and in for his fourth of the season at 14:40.
"It kicked right back out to me and I just saw a little bit of an opening, said Megna. "I think I made it way too close than it had to be off the post."
New Jersey came out a different team in the second period and began to cut into the Pittsburgh lead. At 3:24, defenseman Anton Volchenkov threw a shot toward the net from the left wing boards that was easily tipped and re-directed past Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury from in tight by left winger Patrik Elias.
Less than a minute later, the Devils pulled to within one when Jagr fired a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that hit Fleury and slowly trickled toward the goal line. Seeing the puck lying near the goal line, Zubrus rushed in and pushed the puck over the line with one hand on his stick.
For how dominant the Penguins were in the first, the Devils unquestionably carried the play in the second, out-shooting Pittsburgh 19-5.
"You look up and you are staring at just a one-goal lead pretty quickly," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. "We took our foot off the pedal in terms of how we played and how we executed with the puck."
Near the 12-minute mark of the third, Fleury made his best save of the contest, sprawling to stop a shot with the cuff of his glove off the stick of center Damien Brunner who was in alone on a breakaway. This save accounted for just one of 37 New Jersey shots that Fleury turned away to earn his 18th win of the season. Schneider made 20 saves in defeat.
"Even though they scored two goals, I think we did not panic and still were focused on the game," said Fleury.
NOTES: The Penguins have lost 153 man-games to injury, the Devils have lost 121. ... Devils RW Jaromir Jagr and LW Patrik Elias are the NHL's 1st and 8th active leading scorers, respectively. ... Heading into Friday's action, the Penguins' healthy defensemen had a combined total of 1,189 career games played, while their injured defensemen Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi have a combined total of 1,865 career games played. ... Scratches for the Penguins were LW James Neal (suspension), and D Brian Dumoulin. Scratches for the Devils were LW Mattias Tedenby and C Andrei Loktionov. ... Both teams will be in action again Saturday. The Penguins will travel to Detroit and the Devils will host Tampa Bay.