Penguins, Devils work to cement spots in playoffs

PITTSBURGH -- In one of the late-season games that will help shape the look of the Metropolitan Division and the first-round playoff matchups, the Pittsburgh Penguins play the New Jersey Devils on Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Pittsburgh (42-27-5) turned its season around for the better after the start of the calendar year but is 3-2-1 in its past six games. The Penguins could finish just about anywhere in the tight division.

"We're still working toward playing our best," team captain Sidney Crosby said. "We've got a number of games here that are really important, and we hope they bring the best out in us."

A bright spot for Pittsburgh lately has been the acclimation of center Derick Brassard, who was acquired in February from Ottawa. He has four-game point streak, including a goal Wednesday in a 5-3 win over Montreal.

"He's a real smart player," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think he understands how we're trying to play. And I think he's comfortable."

New Jersey (37-28-8) is on the playoff bubble, seven points behind Pittsburgh. The Devils will be ending a six-game road trip, having lost two in row after winning the first three. That includes a 6-2 thrashing Tuesday at San Jose in their most recent outing.

"There are just some parts of our game where we're a little bit off," winger and leading scorer Taylor Hall said. "It doesn't seem like we have the confidence with the puck right now that we've had all season long. We have to find that.

"We're looking forward to finishing our road trip on the right foot."

The Devils have won both meetings between the teams, both since the start of February, by matching Pittsburgh's speed and keeping the Penguins' chances to a dull roar. The clubs have one more game after Friday.

"The later it gets in March, and then in April, our group really has to learn quickly after the two (recent losses)," New Jersey coach John Hynes said. "I think there's a lot of things we can gather from these two games to make us a better team going into Pittsburgh and then Tampa (Saturday at home)."

While the Penguins had a day off Thursday after Wednesday's 5-3 win over Montreal, the Devils practiced in Pittsburgh.

Afterward, Hynes updated the status of three players. Winger Bryan Gibbons left practice early. Injured forwards Pavel Zacha (upper body) and Miles Wood (upper body) skated, with Zacha lasting the full session and Wood skipping most of the formal part of the practice. Hynes said all are possible for Friday.

"I hope that I get a chance to play and help the team," said Zacha, who has missed six games. "It's really important games leading up to the end of the season, and I'm really excited about it."

Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray is expected to make his second start since returning from a concussion. Hynes said Keith Kinkaid will start for New Jersey. Kinkaid relieved Cory Schneider in the second period Tuesday and stopped nine of 11 shots by the Sharks.

Kinkaid is 2-0-0 against the Penguins this season with a 1.50 goals-against average but 2-2-1 with a 3.36 GAA in his career.
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