Newark, N.J. —Sometimes home cooking and a short term memory can cure any bad performances. The Devils regrouped after getting beat down by Winnipeg 6-1 two days ago.
The 21 year old Dawson Mercer scored his first career hat trick, goaltender Vitek Vanecek was a beast around the pipes made 22 saves and the New Jersey Devils beat the Penguins 5-1 Tuesday night, knocking Pittsburgh out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with four games left in the regular season.
“Coming off that last game, we wanted to make sure we came out fast and were ready to go because we obviously didn’t want to see a repeat of that,” Mercer said after pushing his goal total to a career-best 27. “I think we really handled it well and came out strong. Once we got that early lead, we just kept going.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said his team made too many mistakes against a good team in falling to 4-7 in its last 11 contests.
Timo Meier and Dougie Hamilton also scored for the NJ squad who remain three points behind Carolina in the race for the first-place in the Metropolitan Division. Carolina, which has played one fewer game than the Devils, beat Ottawa in overtime.
After it all shakes out, the Devils will have home field advantage in a first-round playoff series against their over the bridge rival New York Rangers.
“We’d love to be here, so you take it one game at a time,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “Hopefully we can secure that spot. I mean, the destiny is in our hands, which is something that I feel is important.”
With Florida’s win over Buffalo, the Panthers moved into a tie with the New York Islanders for the two wild cards in the East, one point ahead of the Penguins. All three teams have four games to play, but they don’t play one another.
“We didn’t play well enough. We got outplayed,” Sullivan said. “All we can do is is figure out what we can take from it and try to apply it to the next game. And that’s what we’ll try to do. But we’re going to have to we’re going to have to stay in the fight here. We’re still in it.”
Despite being outshot and having to kill off two Penguins power plays, New Jersey took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Hamilton and Mercer.
Meier scored on a 5-on-3 power play in the second period off a feed from Jack Hughes and Mercer scored with 34 seconds left in the period on a backhander after goalie Jarry failed to handle the puck cleanly in front of him which led to a 4-0 lead.
“You look at the three of them, all one touches, all within a foot of the net,” said Mercer, who has made a home for himself around the crease this season. “So like I said before, it’s working for me and I’ll keep on going there and until you know it stops.”
The Devils swept the four-game season series. The only time New Jersey was undefeated in three or more games against Pittsburgh in a season was in 2009-10, when they were 6-0. Pittsburgh D Brian Dumoulin left the ice in the in the first period after taking a big hit from Michael McLeod behind the Penguins net. He did returned.
Penguins: Host Minnesota on Thursday night.
Devils: Host Blue Jackets on Thursday night.