NEWARK, N.J. – Under normal circumstances, a mid-February victory over the New Jersey Devils, last place, would not be a reason for a big party.
Under these circumstances, no one would blame the Pittsburgh Penguins for distributing bottles of champagne throughout the return flight.
Bryan Rust scored a decisive goal in the second half and the Penguins won 4-3 on Tuesday night. It was their first victory in four tries against the Devils this season.
"They had our number this year," said defender Chad Ruhwedel, who scored the goal that ended up being the winning goal. "It was good to come here and get the win."
The win helped the Penguins a lot. This allowed them to take third place in the metropolitan division, with two points ahead of Columbus and two points behind Washington. He also brought them three points ahead of Carolina, ninth, in the race for last place in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
More importantly, a second dominant period gave a glimpse of how they should play to become a legitimate competitor.
With a score of 2-2 after a game, the Penguins had one of the best periods of possession of their ball for weeks, taking a 20-11 advantage in shot attempts, routinely blocking the Devils to their turn.
"When we talk about the identity of the team and how we try to play, what does Penguins hockey look like, that's all," said coach Mike Sullivan. "We defend the ice with our pursuit of puck. It's a five-man unit and it's a cooperative game. "
He also scored two goals, the first from an impressive individual effort by Jake Guentzel in the middle of the period.
Guentzel picked up a puck near the right-backs in the defensive zone and then flew diagonally across the neutral zone. When no Devils defenseman interrupted his advance, Guentzel came back to the left and sent Rust a pass to score to the left to allow goaltender Keith Kinkaid to score.
The Penguins made 4-2 with less than three minutes to go in the period.
At the end of a stubborn shift in the offensive zone by second-line Zach Aston-Reese, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, Ruhwedel scored on a shot from the blue line.
This was the first goal of the season for Ruhwedel, who spent several weeks scratching until Alli Maatta was injured on February 11th. It was also the fifth goal scored by a Penguins defender in the last two games.
"This second period has been really good for us," Ruhwedel said. "We were often in the offensive zone. The guys were moving their feet. It was fun to be part of. "
In the second half, the Penguins sometimes showed how they had suffered three defeats against the Devils earlier in the season.
While there was less than five minutes left in the third minute, Matt Murray scored a goal on a shot from Miles Wood who was sliding slowly from the left wing to the score of 4-3.
"I thought he was pretty solid most of the time," Sullivan said of Murray. "Obviously the one who creaked in, the third, that's what it is."
In the first period, the Penguins made several mistakes. Jesper Bratt was lost in the cover after a faceoff in the defensive zone and Marcus Johansson withdrew the Kessel stick puck for another.
The Penguins fought back in first base with goals from Aston-Reese and Nick Bjugstad before retiring in the second.
"They had our number," said Aston-Reese. "It was good to have this title, especially in the playoffs. These are important victories. "
Jonathan Bombulie is an editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter. .