The Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils open a three-game miniseries of sorts Tuesday, with all three contests in Pittsburgh.
The set has meaning for both clubs, but in a different way.
For the Penguins, the three games are among their final 11 and could go a long way in determining where they finish the East Division, which is bunched at the top.
For the Devils, the three games could help determine whether they fall into last in the division or stay ahead of Buffalo.
Both clubs have this in common: They are a bit sore after their most recent game.
Pittsburgh was cruising along at 4-0 against the last-place Sabres this season before a two-game weekend at Buffalo. The Penguins had to hold off a late rally by the Sabres in a 3-2 win Saturday. That carried over to Sunday, when the Penguins couldn’t get untracked until it was too late in a 4-2 loss.
Those two games — like the three against the Devils — could be seen as prime opportunities to gather points against teams not in contention for a playoff spot.
“Maybe a little cause for concern in the sense that this time of year we can’t afford to come off flat like that,” Penguins center Teddy Blueger said of the lost opportunity Sunday. “With (11) games left and the playoff race what it is, we just need to come out with more energy.”
Pittsburgh defenseman John Marino was a little more philosophical.
“I don’t think there’s too much concern,” Marino said. “(Buffalo) came out and battled harder than us. We’ll take it, and we’ll learn from it and move forward.”
One thing Pittsburgh will fess up to is some consternation about its penalty killing after giving up seven power-play goals over the past eight games.
“We’ve gone through stretches where we’ve obviously been pretty good and obviously haven’t been that good,” Marino said. “Definitely something we want to improve on.”
The Penguins are third in the East, three points out of first and three points ahead of fourth, the playoff cutoff.
The Devils, conversely, are just three points ahead of last-place Buffalo.
That comes after New Jersey got swept in four straight games against the New York Rangers.
The four-game Rangers series and this three-game series with Pittsburgh were the result of rescheduling after earlier postponements.
New Jersey’s sweep of losses culminated in a game Sunday in which the Devils came back from a three-goal deficit to tie it in the third period, only to lose 5-3.
“It’s frustrating,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “I’m trying to make sure I keep them up.”
Ruff understands that his club, which has a contingent of young players, is frustrated.
“I feel for these guys,” he said. “They’re trying hard. We’ve got to keep eliminating mistakes and keep building on the speed we play with.
“I want to see the young guys, when they’re put in the right place and they’re given the opportunity, can they finish the play? … That’s the type of stuff you’re looking at.”
Overall, New Jersey has lost six straight. Before the four-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers, the Devils lost back-to-back home games against the Penguins.
–Field Level Media
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