Devils-Pens: Jerseyites Show How to Win When Wounded
By Stan Fischler
February 5, 2012
Few National Hockey League teams have more consistently won with skating wounded than the Devils and Penguins, who clashed on Sunday afternoon at The Rock.
Each sextet was minus its primary center, Sidney (No Longer A Kid) Crosby on Pittsburgh’s side and Travis Zajac also out indefinitely for New Jersey. Despite these setbacks, the Penguins are fifth in the conference and the Devils sixth.
For one day at least, the better casualty team was New Jersey, who handily defeated the Penguins by a score of 5-2. And it all started with a three-goal lead.
“A week ago, we weren’t beating the best teams,” said Coach Peter DeBoer before the game. “But now we’ve made a statement.”
The Devils – especially Martin Brodeur – did every important thing right in the first period, and continued to do so throughout the match.
“I believe this club’s best games are still ahead,” added DeBoer.
The Russian duet Ilya Kovalchuk and Anton Volchenkov got New Jersey’s goals in the first period.
Meanwhile, Brodeur was quietly spectacular, thwarting Evgeni Malkin early in the game and in the final minute with inches-only saves.
It was 2-0 Devils after the first frame, but it was hardly a convincing lead; not with the ever-dangerous Malkin lurking at all times.
As for the New Jersey goals, they began when Kovalchuk scored his 22nd goal of the season at 2:21 of the first. The play started on a Zach Parise dump-in behind the net.
Patrik Elias managed to deflect the puck away from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had come out to play it. Parise collected the loose puck then passed to Elias, who had skated just to the left side of the net.
Elias quickly found Kovalchuk in the slot, who one-timed the pass past Fleury, completing the beautiful tic-tac-toe play.
“Everybody is playing hard,” said Kovalchuk, “and it was so good to see Volchenkov finally put one in because he used to be an offensive defenseman.”
Improbably, Volchenkov scored his first goal of the season – and with the Devils -- at 9:33.
Alexei Ponikarovsky skated the puck into the enemy’s zone on an odd man rush. The newly-acquired Devil passed to Volchenkov streaking down the high slot.
Instead of shooting, the defenseman skimmed a short pass to Kovalchuk who returned the rubber to Volchenkov, who easily beat Fleury, out of position by this time.
“It was my first goal in New Jersey,” Volchenkov said. “It was a good play by Kovy. Hopefully I can score more.”
The question entering the second period was whether Pittsburgh – which had captured the momentum late in the first – would take over the offense.
A Devils plus entering the fray was the return of gifted rookie, Adam Henrique, who had been sidelined with a groin injury. Crosby, who skated on Sunday morning, has no target for returning.
“The team is playing great and we are on a roll,” said Henrique. “We stuck to our game plan and it paid off today.”
The Devils held Pittsburgh to a goal in the middle frame but emerged with a three-goal lead after 40 minutes.
When New Jersey went up 3-0 on Dainius Zubrus’ short-handed goal at 2:28, Fleury was replaced by Brent Johnson.
A couple of impressive second efforts resulted in a pair of Devils goals.
Killing a penalty, Kovalchuk outfought ex-Devil defenseman Paul Martin along the left boards. Seemingly too deep inside the Pittsburgh zone, Kovy startleingly cut sharply in front of the net.
Fleury made the first save but couldn’t control the rebound. Dainius Zubrus could and pushed the rubber past Fleury, who then got the hook.
“I knew that Martin was not so fast,” explained Kovalchuk, “so I was able to get around him, but it was Dainius who made the best play getting the rebound.”
Pittsburgh responded on the same power play when Matt Niskanen unleashed a quick shot that fooled Marty at 3:02.
Coach DeBoer’s skaters obtained their three-goal cushion on a patented Parise exhibition of persistence.
Seemingly outnumbered behind the Penguins’ goal, the Captain somehow penetrated through Pittsburgh bodies to connect on his 20th goal of the season at 11:22.
The Devils’ “dreaded three-goal lead” was reduced to two on Malkin’s power play goal at 11:43 of the third and that suddenly put fear in the heart of the home fans.
Down to the final three minutes, the Penguins fought to climb to within one, but the Devils said no.
“I like how we stuck to our system,” said backliner Bryce Salvador. “These games got us eight points this weekend.”
David Clarkson hit the 20-goal mark after taking Brodeur’s “Texas-Leaguer” pass and burying it into the empty net to seal the win.
“It was like a Super Bowl play,” laughed Brodeur, “up and over like a field goal.”
New Jersey remains sixth in the Eastern Conference after the win, but has pulled to within one of the Penguins.
The Devils next visit the Garden on Tuesday night hoping to repeat the thrilling victory they had over the Blueshirts earlier this week.
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