By John Schweibacher
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After nearly falling out of a playoff spot, the New Jersey Devils have won three straight games to move into second place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Devils jumped over the Penguins in the standings with a 3-1 win on Saturday night at Prudential Center. It was the first meeting of the season between New Jersey and the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The last time the Devils hosted a club that had won the Cup the previous two seasons was back on Feb. 1, 1999, when they played a 2-2 tie against the Detroit Red Wings at the Meadowlands.
Travis Zajac scored the first and last goals and assisted on the game-winner by Blake Coleman in the win over the Penguins.
It was the 12th career multi-goal game for Zajac, who is in his 12th NHL season, and his second multi-goal game against the Penguins. The first came on Oct. 17, 2007, in a 5-4 win at Pittsburgh.
The last Devils player to have at least two goals and one assist in a game against the Penguins was Patrik Elias, who had a hat trick and two assists in a 6-4 home win on April 5, 2006.
Coleman’s game-winning goal was the first of his career. Devils rookies now have a combined five this season, tied for third most in the NHL (through Feb. 5):
— Tampa Bay 10 (Mikhail Sergachev 5, Yanni Gourde 5)
— Boston 8 (Jake DeBrusk 4, Danton Heinen 2, Sean Kuraly, Charlie McAvoy)
— Los Angeles 5 (Adrian Kempe 3, Alex Iafallo, Paul Ladue)
— New Jersey 5 (Nico Hischier 2, Jesper Bratt 2, Blake Coleman)
The Devils rallied to beat the Flyers, 4-3, last Thursday night at Prudential Center.
Nico Hischier snapped a 10-game goal drought when he scored with 1:27 remaining in the third period to give New Jersey the lead.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked only the second time since the Devils moved to New Jersey in 1982 that a rookie scored a go-ahead goal in the final two minutes of a third period.
The only other to do so was John MacLean, against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14, 1985. The Devils trailed 1-0 to start the third period, but tied the game on a Bruce Driver goal and went ahead on MacLean’s score with 1:17 remaining.
Damon Severson scored to tie Thursday night’s game midway through the third period. It was his eighth of the season, all at even strength.
The only Devils defensemen to score at least that many over a full season without any coming on the power play were Phil Russell, who had nine in 1983-84 and Scott Stevens, who had eight (including one short-handed) in 1999-00.
The Devils’ win over the Flyers last Thursday came against goaltender Alex Lyon, who was making just his second career appearance and first NHL start.
As MSG-Plus noted on its telecast, the last goalie to defeat the Devils in his first career start was Mike Fountain of the Vancouver Canucks, 3-0 at the Meadowlands on Nov. 14, 1996.
According to the player game finder at hockey-reference.com, the last Flyers goaltender to defeat the Devils in his first NHL start was Bruce Hoffort on Nov. 11, 1989, a 7-5 victory in New Jersey.
The Devils returned from the All-Star break with a 3-1 victory over the Sabres last Tuesday night in Buffalo.
Taylor Hall, who had missed New Jersey’s final three games before the break due to a thumb injury, scored the winning goal. Hall led the Devils with 13 points in January despite playing in only eight games and has reached double figures in points in all four months this season:
— October: 3 goals, 13 points
— November: 5, 13
— December: 4, 6
— January: 6, 7
The Elias Sports Bureau noted that since 2010-11, the only other Devils player to record at least 10 points in each of the first four months of a season was Jaromir Jagr in 2013-14.
New Jersey has now won six straight games in Buffalo, matching its longest winning streak there in club history. The Devils last did it from March 9, 1997-Jan. 6, 2000.
Plus: Keith Kinkaid. Devils backup goalie has won three consecutive starts for the first time in his NHL career.
Minus: Cory Schneider. Veteran starting netminder is still not skating regularly on his own because of the groin injury he suffered last month.