Devils’ Playoff Hopes Take Another Agonizing Hit
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Marc-Andre Fleury matched idol Martin Brodeur save for save through three periods. And overtime. And through two rounds of a shootout.
Fleury finally won with his third shootout save.
James Neal scored in the third round of a shootout and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 1-0 on Friday night in a game dominated by Fleury and Brodeur.
“He is a very competitive goalie and he wants to be the best in the league,” Penguins forward Jordan Staal said about Fleury. “Obviously, Brodeur is a future Hall of Famer, and ‘Flower’ is up for those games.”
Fleury made 21 saves for his third shutout of the season and 19th of his career. He also stopped Brian Rolston, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias in the shootout.
Brodeur extended his NHL shutout record to 116 with his sixth of the season. He made 26 saves and stopped Alexei Kovalev in the shootout. Kris Letang missed the net leading off the tiebreaker.
“I always think of it as more of a dual against their players than their goalie,” said Fleury, who grew up in Quebec a fan of fellow French-Canadian star Brodeur. “But it was fun, though.”
The Devils fell 10 points behind eighth-place Buffalo in the Eastern Conference, a scenario that led Kovalchuk to say, “I think we’re done.”
The Penguins, on the verge of clinching a playoff spot, moved within two points of idle Philadelphia in the race for both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference leads.
The game was lacking offense from the opening faceoff.
Rolston took the first shot 10:06 in, and the teams combined for four shots in the first period. That established a Penguins record for the fewest combined shots in a single period. It also was the first NHL period with fewer than five shots since Jan. 13, 2007 (San Jose at Phoenix).
“We knew going in, that it would be that style,” Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said.
“Maybe not that bad of a style.”
In the five games thus far in the season series between the teams, a total of 12 goals have been scored.
“That team is playing pretty much like we do in our end,” said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, whose Devils rank eighth in the NHL in defense and last in goals for. Pittsburgh is seventh in goals-agaisnt average. “So there was not a lot of room, not a lot of scoring chances. That’s the way it was.”
The Devils played most of the second half of the game with only four defensemen after Colin White and Anton Volchenkov both sustained lower body injuries. White was injured during the first period and Volchenkov when Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz collided with him awkwardly in the corner during the second.
The situation was exasperated when defenseman Henrik Tallinder briefly left the game in the third due to an equipment issue, causing Lemaire to resort to using forward Adam Mair on defense for a brief time.
“It was tough,” New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene said. “But when you’re not scoring much, you’re not leaving yourself much room for error… We’re just not finding back of the net.”
Brodeur came in 8-1-0 with an 0.88 goals-against average in his previous nine starts against Pittsburgh. He improved that goals-against average while hurting his record. Brodeur has nine shutouts in his career against the Penguins — tied for second-most against any team. He made 23 saves in a 2-0 home win against then Jan. 20.
But this shutout wasn’t enough for a desperate Devils team to earn two points. New Jersey is 1-3-1 in its past five after completing a miraculous 23-3-2 run from Jan. 9-March 15.
“We’re not scoring, obviously,” Elias said. “And you’re not going to win hockey games when you don’t score.”
The Devils almost did, except for Neal skating in with speed and making moves to his forehand before lifting a shot above Brodeur from the left-wing side.
“It was frustrating but we managed to hang with it,” said Neal, who also had the shootout-deciding goal in Detroit on Monday. “I made a decent move and was able to get the puck up.
The Penguins have won three straight games — all via shootout — improved to 8-2-2 in their past 12 and have won five of seven. They have won eight of 11 shootouts this season.
NOTES: Penguins superstar C Sidney Crosby went through another on-ice workout Friday morning, skating hard, stickhandling and shooting. There still, however, is no timetable on his return to game action. … The Penguins improved to 12-1-5 in one-goal games without Crosby. … The Penguins’ Mike Comrie (hip surgery) played for the first time since Nov. 24. Comrie replaced Dustin Jeffrey in the lineup after Jeffrey left the game in Philadelphia with a lower-body injury. The Penguins gave no update on Jeffrey’s condition. … Devils LW Zach Parise — out since late October with a torn right meniscus — was with the team in Pittsburgh, but didn’t play.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)