PITTSBURGH — Jeff Carter picked up his first goal in Pittsburgh as part of a first-period deluge and the Penguins held on for a 7-6 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh led 6-0 entering the third before the Devils put together a furious rally. Andreas Johnsson pulled New Jersey within one with 41 seconds remaining but the Devils couldn’t generate another shot with the goaltender pulled.
Carter, acquired from Los Angeles at last week’s trade deadline to give the Penguins depth, speed and a dash of grit as the playoffs loom, beat Scott Wedgewood with a blast from between the circles that finished off a four-goal opening period.
Bryan Rust, Mike Matheson and Brian Dumoulin also scored in the first for Pittsburgh, which bounced back from a dismal loss to Buffalo on Sunday night to move within a point of Washington and the New York Islanders for first place in the East Division.
Sidney Crosby and Evan Rodrigues both had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh. Jared McCann added two assists to give him 15 points in his last 14 games.
Tristan Jarry finished with 24 saves to win for the seventh time in his last eight starts but endured a shaky third period as the Devils nearly pulled off a stunning comeback.
Wedgewood’s 13th start of the season was also his most forgettable. He stopped just nine of the 13 shots he faced before being pulled in favor of Aaron Dell to start the second period. Dell didn’t fare much better, surrendering a goal on the first shot he faced as Pittsburgh posted its highest goal total since March 3, 2020, against Ottawa.
The Devils, as they did in losses to the Rangers over the weekend, made it interesting after falling woefully behind.
Johnsson, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, Nathan Bastian, Jack Hughes and Nolan Foote all scored the third period but couldn’t stop New Jersey from dropping their seventh straight. The Devils are just 1-9-2 in their last 12 games, with three of the losses coming at the hands of the Penguins.
Things don’t get any easier for New Jersey. The teams meet again in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Saturday.
The Penguins have used a soft portion of their schedule to close in on Washington and the Islanders in the East, though the momentum appeared to be blunted following a surprising setback in Buffalo on Sunday in which Pittsburgh came out flat and never recovered.
Yet coach Mike Sullivan has praised his team’s resilience all season and the Penguins responded by wasting little time jumping on the reeling Devils.
Matheson gave the Penguins the lead 3:49 in on a one-timer from just inside the blue line. Rust doubled the lead 8:04 into the first when he took a pretty pass off the boards from Crosby, fended off New Jersey’s Damon Severson and raced across the crease to beat Wedgewood for his 18th goal of the season.
Wedgewood’s night would get significantly worse just 45 seconds later. Dumoulin, skating at center ice, flipped an innocent clear toward the New Jersey goaltender. The puck knuckled just in front of the crease and found its way by Wedgewood. Carter’s turnaround slapshot 17:56 into the first capped off the team’s most productive first period since scoring four in the first period against Philadelphia on Oct. 29, 2019.
The Devils, playing without injured leading scorers Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt, had no response. Dell came on in place of Wedgewood with Mackenzie Blackwood unavailable after getting hurt in a collision with New York Rangers rookie Alexis Lafreniere on Sunday.
Pittsburgh needed just 1:04 to solve Dell as Rodrigues dropped a nifty backhand pass to Blueger, who fired it into the wide-open net.
New Jersey, to its credit, did not quit. The Devils fell behind by scores of 4-0 and 3-0 over the weekend against New York only to rally. It was much the same this time. New Jersey scored on 6 of 11 shots in the third.