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Lightning up next: Devils build cushion in last East playoff spot

The Devils' Taylor Hall puts the puck behind Penguins goaltender Matt Murray for an overtime goal and a 4-3 win Friday. (Associated Press)
The Devils' Taylor Hall puts the puck behind Penguins goaltender Matt Murray for an overtime goal and a 4-3 win Friday. (Associated Press)
Published Mar. 24, 2018

PITTSBURGH  — The  Devils and their roster stuffed with speed and youth haven't made the playoffs in six years. The drought for Taylor Hall is longer. Eight years after being taken with the top pick in the draft, the Devils forward is still waiting for his first taste of the postseason.

It may almost be over.

Hall raced in alone and beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Penguins on Friday night and give their push for the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference a boost. New Jersey is  three points clear of ninth-place Florida with just over two weeks to go in the regular season.

The Devils get another chance to add to their cushion when they face the Lightning on Saturday night in Newark.

Pittsburgh's Brian Dumoulin and Phil Kessel scored in the third to erase a two-goal deficit and force overtime, but Hall handed the Penguins just their second loss in their last 17 home games when he loitered near the Penguins' blue line, waited for an outlet pass from 19-year-old Nico Hischier, then slipped a shot between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season.

"I saw a chance to take off a little bit and get behind them," said Hall, who, with 81 points, is the first New Jersey player to reach the 80-point plateau since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2011-12.

"I was just hoping Nico was going to win his battle and, sure enough, he did."

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, including 14 in the third period as Pittsburgh dominated.

"It's difficult to beat a team like Pittsburgh if you don't get excellent goaltending because they're so dynamic. They have so many weapons in their lineup that you know they're going to get looks at certain times regardless of what you do, and Keith came up with some big, big saves, particularly in the third period late," Devils coach John Hynes said.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins pulled within three points of Washington for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, however, missed an opportunity during a lethargic second period in which the Devils scored three times. Though they managed to get to the extra period, the Penguins understand they let a chance to beat New Jersey for the first time in three meetings this season slip away.

As good as they were early and late, they were messy in the middle.

"We have mental lapses for short periods of time, and it's costing us, and you can't have that this time of year," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.

New Jersey's drive to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012 has been bumpy of late. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to 13-12 since Jan. 30.

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