By: Casey Shea

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Penguins can move one step closer to securing home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs with a win over the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night.

Currently, the Penguins are three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the Atlantic Division lead. They also hold a one-point edge over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Philadelphia will be on the road in Ottawa tonight. Tampa Bay is also on the road and will take on the Buffalo Sabres.

As for Pittsburgh, they will be squaring off with a division foe that is already making tee time reservations.

The Devils were officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, but they got one big weapon back into the fold.

Zach Parise returned to the lineup after undergoing knee surgery in November. His injury was one of several contributing factors to the Devils’ early season woes that ultimately ended their streak of 13 straight playoff appearances.

After a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens officially sealed their fate, goaltender Martin Brodeur called the season “a failure.”

While that may be the case, the Devils will not just roll over and give up on their remaining four games.

If there’s a team that will embrace the spoiler role, especially against a division rival, it’s New Jersey.

To beat the Devils, the Penguins will need to contain Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Devils signed Kovalchuk to a 15-year deal worth $100 million last summer. For someone making that much money, he was largely disappointing for most of the season.

He’s been better of late and leads the team with 29 goals, but trails Patrik Elias (19 goals, 39 assists, 58 points) for the team lead in points by two.

In goal, Brodeur (22-25-3, 2.40 GAA, .905 save percentage) has put up respectable numbers despite the team’s struggles this season.

Not counting an injury-riddled 2008-09 campaign and the shortened 1994-95 season, his 22 wins are the lowest total of his career.

However, he has been a thorn in the Penguins’ side in his career.

In 75 games against Pittsburgh, Brodeur is 42-25-4-1 with a 2.46 GAA and .901 save percentage. He has also blanked the Penguins nine times.

The key to success against New Jersey is to get the first goal. If New Jersey scores first in a game, they start to suffocate teams with their trap.

Tyler Kennedy netted his 20th goal of the season during a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday. While he only has one goal and one assist against New Jersey in his career, tonight could be the night he breaks out.

The line of Max Talbot, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Conner was arguably the most effective line against the Panthers.

If that line can go back to work and pin the Devils deep in their own zone, the Penguins should be able to generate plenty of scoring chances.

In their most recent meeting on March 25, Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves and didn’t allow a goal in the shootout to lift the Penguins to a 1-0 win.

Against the Devils, Fleury is 10-15-4 with a 2.64 GAA and .916 save percentage.

The puck is set to drop at 7:30 and you can watch the game on Versus.


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