NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey defeated the Penguins, 5-2, at the Prudential Center tonight to sweep the six-game season series and move into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Penguins played without center Evgeni Malkin, who has a bruised foot. Based on how some of his teammates performed, however, Malkin wasn't the only one to take the night off.
The Penguins dominated the early minutes of play, and Chris Kunitz gave them a 1-0 lead at 4:01 of the opening period.
Kunitz whipped a Bill Guerin rebound past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur from near the top of the left circle for his 11th of the season.
Kris Letang got the second assist on Kunitz' goal, but was guilty of a gaffe that led directly to one by Dainius Zubrus of the Devils at 10:51.
Letang was lugging the puck out of his end when he lost it to Patrik Elias. He fed it to Zubrus, who broke in alone on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and buried a shot behind him to tie the game.
New Jersey exploited another Penguins turnover to take a 2-1 lead at 18:18.
Defenseman Paul Martin, playing for the first time since breaking his arm in a game against the Penguins Oct. 24, collected a Guerin pass in the neutral zone and carried it into the Penguins' end before sticking a shot inside the far post from above the right dot.
Fleury denied Travis Zajac on a shorthanded breakaway at 2:48 of the second period to keep the Penguins within a goal, but his teammates apparently didn't appreciate the reprieve.
Just 21 seconds later, Elias beat Fleury on another shorthanded breakaway -- this one made possible when he picked off a cross-ice pass by point man Jordan Leopold -- to put the Devils up by two.
Zach Parise ran New Jersey's advantage to 4-1 when he punched in a loose puck while on his knees at the front lip of the crease at 10:17.
That goal prompted coach Dan Bylsma to replace Fleury, who allowed four goals on 13 shots, with Brent Johnson.
The switch presumably was made in an effort to alter the momentum of the game, since most of those goals stemmed from lapses not by Fleury, but by his teammates.
Ruslan Fedotenko sliced New Jersey's lead to 4-2 at 5:23 of the third, as his shot from inside the right circle glanced off Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador and past Brodeur for his tenth of the season.
That marked the first time this season the Penguins scored more than once in a game against the Devils, but any comeback hopes the Penguins had disappeared when Rob Niedermayer scored into an empty net at 18:47.
The Penguins (41-24-5) will visit Boston Thursday night before returning home for a game against Carolina Saturday afternoon.
Dave Molinari: email@example.com .