NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched home-ice advantage for their first-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it was the role players who carried them over the threshold.
The Penguins got goals from seven players, two assists from Sidney Crosby — including a spectacular no-look, backhand pass to give Conor Sheary a shot into an open net — and 34 saves from Matt Murray in a 7-4 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
“Obviously, we’ve had pretty good success at home, and I think any time you can put your team in the best possible situation moving forward, and that’s been our goal, it’s good,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after his team won its 50th game.
The win gave Pittsburgh 111 points — the second-highest total in franchise history. Coupled with Columbus’ 5-4 loss to Winnipeg, the Penguins will finish second ahead of the Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division, gaining home-ice for the best-of-7 first-round series.
The players didn’t seem to care about getting home ice. They were more impressed by the work of the younger guys in the game.
Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel , Josh Archibald, Patric Hornqvist, Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino also scored for the Penguins. Bonino also had two assists.
“Young kids, that was big for us last year we got scoring from a lot of different people and different lines and tonight that was the case,” Cullen said, recalling last year’s run to the Stanley Cup. “Kind of depth scoring and that was a key last year.”
Stefan Noesen, John Moore , Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri scored for the Devils.
“They are a high-skilled offensive team, even their depth guys, their roll guys, they can make plays,” said Cory Schneider, who faced 28 shots. “For me as a goalie, if you don’t have your ‘A’ game against this team that’s what can happen to you. We did some good things offensively, scored some goals and put pressure on them, but I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.”
The Penguins never trailed after Archibald and Sheary scored in a 56-second span early in the second period to put them ahead 4-2.
“Tonight on the offensive side, we did some pretty good things, but we left Schneids out to dry there,” Palmieri said. “Five or six of those were back-door tap-ins. He had no chance and you can’t do that.”
Hall cut the lead to a goal with a power-play goal at 5:34 of the second period, but Hornqvist put in a rebound on a power play a little more than two minutes later to push the advantage back to two goals.
Palmieri capped six-goal second period by putting in a rebound of Travis Zajac’s shot late in the period to cut the lead to 5-4.
However, Cullen scored short-handed early in the third period and Bonino iced the game late with a power-play goal.
Despite being outshot 12-8 in the first period, the Penguins took a 2-1 advantage as Bonino set up goals by Rust and Guentzel in a 2:43 span following New Jersey turnovers.
The Devils had taken the early lead when Pittsburgh defenseman Carter Rowney banked the rebound of Noesen’s shot off Murray into the net.
NOTES: Pittsburgh D Trevor Daley returned to the lineup after missing 20 games with a knee injury. … The Penguins won all five games against the Devils, the first time they have done that since 1981-82, when the New Jersey franchise was in Colorado. … The 20-goal season was Hall’s fifth in the NHL. … D Justin Schultz became the 13th Penguins defenseman to reach 50 points. …. Devils C Jacob Josefson played after missing 17 games with an upper-body injury.
Penguins: At Toronto on Saturday in second game of season-ending three-game road trip.
Devils: Host the Islanders in their home finale on Saturday night.
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