Devils Seeking Perfection Against Penguins

Doug GausepohlCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 12:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils shoots the puck against Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during their game on March 12, 2010 at The Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Devils are busy preparing for easily the biggest game of the season tonight.

They'll be at home, against the division-leading and defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Devils currently trail the Penguins by two points in the Atlantic Division, although the Devils do have a game in hand (New Jersey has 14 games remaining, while Pittsburgh only has 13).

Under scenarios where the game is finished in regulation, if the Devils win, they'll be tied in points with the Penguins, but technically in first place due to the Devils having played less games.  If the Penguins win in regulation, they'll be four points above the Devils.

In overtime, the Devils would be only one point behind with a win, while the Pittsburgh lead would only increase to three if they were to win in overtime or a shootout.

Biggest positive going into this game: The Devils are 5-0 against the Penguins this season. 

Biggest negative going into this game: The Devils are 5-0 against the Penguins this season.

Think the Penguins won't be revved up going into this one?  No way they want to wind up losing this division and look back at a 0-6 record against New Jersey as the reason.

"It doesn't matter that we've dropped a bunch against them in the past," Sidney Crosby told the Penguins official site .  "It doesn't really matter at this point.  This is the biggest one of them all.  This is the one we need badly."

This is certainly a division—and maybe conference—shifting game.  Bigger game for the Devils, because if they lose in regulation the division title looks more like a long shot.  Even if the Penguins lose, they'll still be tied in points with the Devils, and at least they won't have to worry about playing New Jersey anymore in the regular season, as this will be the sixth and final matchup of the year. 

There are a couple of questionable players going into the game, and leading that list is Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin.  He took a shot from teammate Kris Letang in Tampa Bay on Sunday, and didn't practice with the team on Tuesday. 

Judging from the reports, and common sense, if Malkin wasn't even able to skate yesterday, I don't see how he'd be able to play today.  But I'm not a doctor, or a professional athlete, so we'll see if he plays.  It would certainly benefit the Devils if Malkin is out.

The Devils could possibly see the return of defenseman Paul Martin tonight, who has been out with a broken forearm since Oct. 29.  Martin himself called it a "50-50" chance he's in the lineup tomorrow.

Normally, I'd say let Martin rest another couple of days before rushing it.  But this is a big game, and it'd be nice to get some defensive depth going into it.  If he's feeling good after the morning skate, I hope he's in the lineup.

At this time tomorrow, we should have a much better idea of what way the Atlantic Division is going to shift.  Will the Devils win their second straight division title?  Or will the Penguins hold on and win their second in three years?  Can't wait to find out.