– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — Everything seemed to be pointing toward “déjà vu” for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their latest encounter with the team that had given them the most fits all season, from the opposing goalkeeper who has tied them in knots making a now-rare start against them to conceding the opening goal just over two minutes after the opening face-off.
But with a precious two points and playoff positioning of high priority this time of year for the Penguins, they finally conquered their personal bogeyman to continue their good run of form.
Pittsburgh twice fought back from being a goal down in the first period before second-period tallies from Bryan Rust and Chad Ruhwedel gave the Penguins the lead for good in a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh’s first win in the four-game series this season with the Devils.
The win is Pittsburgh’s fourth in its last five games and moves the Penguins two points clear of the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division and just one point shy of Washington for second place.
“Even last year, it was kind of the same way. They had our number,” said Zach Aston-Reese, who scored the Penguins first goal off of a feed from behind the net by Sidney Crosby. “It’s nice to get that one, especially going down the stretch to the playoffs. Those are important wins.”
Aston-Reese and Nick Bjugstad scored tying goals in the first period after Devils forward Jesper Bratt scored at the 2:14 mark for a 1-0 lead and Marcus Johansson tallied at 12:12 for a 2-1 New Jersey advantage.
In the second, the Penguins took control of the game, as Rust took a pass from Jake Guentzel before his shot from the right circle squeezed through the pads of Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid and into the net at 10:45 to give Pittsburgh its first lead. The lead soon was doubled when Ruhwedel, playing in just his fourth game of the season since Nov. 19, scored his first goal of the season with 2:31 remaining for a 4-2 lead.
“I think at this time of the year, guys are playing so hard that the games are so tight,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “We need everybody to have the juice. We need to play the game the way we want to play it. So I thought our second period was really strong, but thought the guys played hard all night.”
Miles Wood scored for the Devils with 4:50 remaining in the third period to halve New Jersey’s deficit, the only shot that beat Penguins goalkeeper Matt Murray in the final frame. Murray made 33 saves in the contest, including 15 in the third period as New Jersey outshot the Penguins 16-8 in the period.
Kinkaid, who had been 3-0-0 against the Penguins this season but 7-13-5 against the rest of the league before tonight, made 24 saves as the Devils saw their modest two-game winning streak come to an end.
“It could be the story of our season. We don’t play a full 60 [minutes],” said Kinkaid. “I don’t think their shots were too harmful. Like I said, a crazy curve on the fourth one and I have to find a way to squeeze that third one. It’s on me. I have to come up with the big save. I think we played well enough to win.”