NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – Just when it looked like the New Jersey Devils were coming back to the pack in the Eastern Conference after a surprising start, they have surprised everyone again.
This time it was the NHL’s hottest team.
Travis Zajac scored two goals and set up another as the Devils limited Pittsburgh to a season-low 16 shots in posting a 3-1 victory on Saturday night, ending the Penguins’ four-game winning streak.
The win was the Devils third straight after the All-Star break and it came against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, who had only lost twice in 11 games.
“These are big because you want to create as much separation as you can especially as the year goes on,” Zajac said after the Devils leapfrogged the Penguins and moved back into second place in the Metropolitan Division with three games in hand. “It’s nice to get these wins, keep improving and we’re going to have to win a lot more games. As long as we’re prepared and focused, we’ll get there.”
Blake Coleman also scored and Stefan Noesen had two assists for the Devils, who have missed the playoffs the past five seasons.
“You have goals you set out to achieve, every night won’t win, but I think our consistency through 60 minutes has been good,” center Brian Boyle said. “Sometimes you have to simplify and go to basics. We got a great group of character guys in this room.”
Keith Kinkaid made 15 saves and benefited from a goaltender interference call that denied Sidney Crosby a third-period goal.
Evgeni Malkin, the NHL player of the month in January with 12 goals, scored in the third period. He now has eight goals in his last four games, 15 since Jan. 1, and 29 overall. Rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith made 35 saves for the Penguins, who looked sluggish after beating Washington on Friday night.
“When you don’t play committed, you don’t play hard, you get outplayed, you are not going to win,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We got outplayed. It’s pretty simple. They wanted it more. They won every loose puck battle. They were quicker with their second man to the puck battles. For whatever reason, we didn’t have any jump tonight. We didn’t seem to have our legs. We certainly got outplayed. We deserved to lose.”
Lightning 4, Canucks 2
In Vancouver, Yanni Gourde scored late in the second period to give Tampa Bay a three-goal lead, and they went on to their fifth win in six games.
Kings 6, Coyotes 0
In Los Angeles, Darcy Kuemper made 27 saves for his 10th career shutout, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis scored on special teams, and Los Angeles won its second straight against the Pacific Division after five straight regulation losses.
Jets 3, Avalanche 0
In Winnipeg, Connor Hellebuyck stopped 25 shots for his fifth shutout of the season as the Jets improved to 5-0-2 in their last seven games.
Canadiens 5, Ducks 2
In Montreal, defenseman Jeff Petry scored two goals to help the Canadiens end a three-game losing streak.
Senators 4, Flyers 3 (SO)
In Philadelphia, Mike Hoffman scored the only shootout goal in the sixth round of the tiebreaker to lift Ottawa past the Flyers.
Blues 1, Sabres 0
In Buffalo, Carter Hutton stopped 27 shots for his third shutout of the season and 11th of his career, and Carl Gunnarsson banked in a shot off the crossbar with 5:41 left to lead St. Louis.
Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 1
In Boston, Tuukka Rask made 23 stops and posted a point for a career-best 20th straight game.
Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3
In New York, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson scored early in the third period and Jaroslav Halak made 46 saves as the Islanders rallied past Columbus.
Panthers 3, Red Wings 2
In Sunrise, Florida, Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 7.7 seconds left in the third period to lift the Panthers past Detroit.
Stars 6, Wild 1
In Dallas, Jamie Benn had a goal and an assist during a four-goal second period, and the Stars cruised past Minnesota.
Predators 5, Rangers 2
In Nashville, Kevin Fiala scored twice and Pekka Rinne stopped 20 shots as the Predators improved to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Flames 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)
In Calgary, Sean Monahan scored 59 seconds into overtime and the Flames snapped a six-game losing streak.