NEWARK, N.J. -- The Penguins would have you believe that they did it all on purpose, that they were thrilled to have it happen that way.
And it could be that they actually did think that way.
It's just hard to understand why.
After all, taking a 2-0 lead against New Jersey in the first period at the Prudential Center last night had to bring back some miserable memories of their previous two games, when they squandered similar advantages in what became 3-2 losses at Colorado and on Long Island.
Not this time, though, as they ran off three more goals in a 5-0 victory over the Devils, raising their record to 7-6-1 and salvaging a split on their four-game road trip.
"We didn't want to rest on that [2-0 advantage], especially with the way the last couple of games went," center Sidney Crosby said. "I'm not saying we would have lost if it was 2-1, but at the same time, it's pretty hard for that not to sneak up in your mind a bit."
The Devils never got that first goal, though, as Dany Sabourin turned aside 20 shots to earn his first NHL shutout. And while Crosby praised Sabourin for "making the saves he had to make," Sabourin benefited from a solid performance by the guys in front of him.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien reconfigured his forward lines, leaving only the Ryan Malone-Crosby-Evgeni Malkin unit intact, and was rewarded with an even-strength goal from each of the four lines.
"We got contributions from everyone," Therrien said. "That's what we were looking for."
If it's any consolation to the Devils, they were able to suffer pretty much in private in the building they and the City of Newark spent about $375 million to build.
Erecting a state-of-the-art arena was one way to use that money. Another would have been to give $1 million to each fan who showed up there last night.
The announced attendance was 14,032, but that total represented either tickets-in-circulation or an arms-and-legs (as opposed to a head) count, because at least half of the 17,625 seats were empty.
"It was surprising," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "A beautiful new arena. I was surprised by the lack of a crowd."
And the decibel level was lower than the body count. There are religious services that are more rowdy.
"I think it'd be tough be New Jersey and look around and not see a whole lot of people, and it's not overly loud," Penguins forward Erik Christensen said.
The Penguins got the only goal they needed when Crosby swatted a shot past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur from the right side of the crease at 12:09 of the opening period.
That score gave them at least one power-play goal in 14 consecutive games, tying the franchise record, and extended Crosby's career-best scoring streak to 13 games.
Adam Hall, better-known for his solid two-way play and work ethic, put the Penguins up by two with a spectacular goal at 16:19.
He set up in the slot and, with his back to Brodeur, deflected an Orpik shot from the left point out of the air and into the goal -- with the shaft of his stick.
"We have drills to practice that sort of thing," Hall said.
Devils alum Petr Sykora swelled the lead to 3-0 at 5:48 of the second, taking a backhand feed from Malkin, who was on his knees, and throwing the puck past Brodeur from the left hash.
Christensen further deflated New Jersey at 11:18, as he exchanged passes with Maxime Talbot before burying the puck from between the crease and the right circle for his first goal in eight games.
And lingering suspense about the outcome -- and there should not have been any -- was vaporized when Crosby got his second of the game at 3:28 of the third.
Orpik threw the puck from the left-wing boards into the slot where Crosby dropped to one knee and whipped it by Brodeur, who promptly was replaced by his backup, Kevin Weekes.
It's not often that the Penguins put five pucks behind Brodeur. Then again, it isn't often -- at least not lately -- that anything good comes from them taking a 2-0 lead.
That's why winning this game, and doing it the way they did, might be even more important than the two points they earned.
"It's good for the confidence of the players," Therrien said. "It was a good team effort."
First Published November 6, 2007 5:00 AM