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Devils-Lightning: Marek Zidlicky Premiere In Newark – Not the Best of Days

By Stan Fischler
February 26, 2012

The Marek Zidlicky melodrama ran for two weeks – “Is He Is Or Is He Ain’t A Devil?” – leading to his premiere on Sunday afternoon at The Rock.
 
A native of Most – that’s a real city – in the Czech Republic, Zidlicky, 35, still is in his hockey prime and, long-term, is expected to bolster Peter DeBoer’s defense.
 
For one day, at least, Zidlicky was paired with Anton Volchenkov as New Jersey sought to resume its assault on the NHL’s upper reaches as opposed to the rival Lightning, a club ready to be reorganized.
 
And as the sun went down over Prudential Center, the Zidlicky first-nighters exited sad over the three-act play.
 
With the Rangers coming up on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, Peter DeBoer’s skaters will have to do better than their 4-3 loss to the Lightning.
 
A late goal by Zach Parise could not erase the deficit produced in large part by Marty St. Louis’ three-goal hat trick.
 
“The start was good,” explained Ilya Kovalchuk after the game, “but we fell asleep in the second period and they took advantage.”
 
As the teams head into the homestretch, the Devils aim is: 1. Secure a playoff berth; 2. Achieve home-ice advantage; 3. Hope that injured Travis Zajac and Henrik Tallinder return to the line-up in mint condition.
 
Zidlicky took a regular turn in the first period, appearing at home in his new venue. He also took a holding penalty in order to derail a Steven Stamkos breakaway.
 
New Jersey’s penalty killing – second best in the league – effectively stifled the Lightning.
 
For a team that was shellacked 8-1 by Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Lightning tightened its defense and matched New Jersey in scoring chances through the first period.
 
“They used that one-three-one style,” added Parise, “and it frustrated us a bit.”
 
Had it not been for some alert goaltending by Martin Brodeur, Tampa Bay might have enjoyed at least a one-goal lead after the first frame.
 
Ironically, the only goal came as a result of an errant defensive play by Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone a few feet north of his goaltender.
 
The play started innocently enough with a dump-in that was fielded by the Lightning. Brett Clark of Tampa Bay tried to launch a counter-attack with a short pass to Malone.
 
Instead the Lightning veteran blindly turned towards the boards, not bargaining for a forechecking Alex Ponikarovsky. The recently-acquired Devil continued paying dividends.
 
First he stripped Malone of the biscuit, depositing it past Mathieu Garon. It was Ponikarovsky’s twelfth goal of the season, his fifth as a Devil, at 12:07 to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
 
Nursing the one-goal lead, the Devils still had their hands full, as the Lightning attack had continually penetrated the home blue line right down to a big Brodeur save just before the buzzer.
 
If the first period was a scenario for New Jersey’s loose play, it was exploited in the middle frame when the visitors grabbed the lead with two goals, courtesy of Devils’ defensive defects.
 
St. Louis evened the score with his 20th goal at 6:39. With the Devils caught in a line change, Garon played the puck off the left boards. Cam Janssen raced to retrieve it but it bounced off the boards and past his outreached stick.
 
The puck came to Stamkos in the neutral zone as both Devils’ defensemen were desperately sprinting to their positions. Stamkos passed it to St. Louis, who went in alone on Brodeur, firing a wrist shot past Marty’s blocker.
 
St. Louis did an encore at 14:55 on a power play. The play began when Teddy Purcell fired a shot from the left circle that bounced off Brodeur and trickled to St. Louis camped at the other side of the net to cash in the rebound.
 
Poof! Just like that, the Devils were down 2-1 with twenty minutes remaining for redemption.
 
It appeared the Devils had gotten that message, as Petr Sykora tied the game at 2:28 of the third period. Steve Bernier corralled the puck behind the Lightning net. He came out and dished a cross-crease pass to Sykora, who one-timed his 15th goal of the season past Garon.
 
But the Devils failed to be alert once more on defense and it took St. Louis only 41 seconds to score again.
 
Bryce Salvador went down in an attempt to block St. Louis’ pass intended for Matt Gilroy. The puck grazed off Salvador and slowly went to Gilroy, who only had to tap the puck in as Brodeur had come out to challenge a potential St. Louis shot.
 
St. Louis completed the hat trick at 10:18. The puck came around to Purcell at the right boards.
 
St. Louis cut to the net from the left side and re-directed Purcell’s pass past Brodeur. Adam Larsson was with St. Louis the whole way but was unable to prevent him from getting his stick on the puck.
 
Parise scored on the power play at 17:25 to make it a one-goal game, but it was too little, too late for the Devils.
 
“Today was a huge two points,” Kovalchuk said. “We have got to win those games.”
 
DeBoer insisted that he was more enthused about Zidlicky’s long-term benefit to the team than his debut performance.
 
“I think you need to temper your expectations, he was in Dallas Friday and practiced on two hours of sleep yesterday,” DeBoer said. “It’s not about what he does today but what he does going forward.”
 
Because of Zidlicky’s arrival, coupled with the return of injured rookie backliner Larsson, DeBoer shuffled his defense combos.
 
With Zidlicky taking a regular turn on the blue line, the other combos included Larsson with Salvador and Andy Greene with Mark Fayne as the lone holdover. Matt Taormina, who had been playing effectively, became the odd-man out.
 
“We’re going to have to come out better against the Rangers,” concluded David Clarkson.
 
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