Late-Game Woes Haunt Devils Again

Here is my recap of the Devils 2-1 shootout loss to Chicago on Friday night:

Late-Game Woes Haunt Devils Again

Chicago 2               Devils 1 shootout

Once again — for the third home game in a row — the New Jersey Devils surrendered a late, backbreaking goal before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 in a shootout on Friday night. Goalie Martin Brodeur was 26 seconds away from win #599/shutout #109 of his career when Kris Versteeg’s desperation shot tied the game — deflecting off of Devils defenseman Mike Mottau’s leg. “We just couldn’t clear it; we had the puck on the boards there for a while, and after that in the middle of the ice,” explained Brodeur. “It just squirted loose right to Versteeg; he turned around and just shot it. Somebody was in front of me with my defenseman and it just went through.”

These late-game meltdowns are not good signs for New Jersey if they want to do any damage in the upcoming playoffs, but they still have five more games to figure it out. “I think we played well defensively and Marty played a great game,” said Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk. “In the last minute we have to get the puck out, any way we can.”

Kovalchuk gave the Devils the lead when he one-timed a shot past ‘Hawks goalie Antti Niemi 5:49 into the game, his 40th goal of the season. “(Vladimir) Zharkov battled along the boards hard and chipped the puck to Patty (Elias), and he made a great play,” said Kovalchuk. “I was in the right time and the right place and put it in.”

Brodeur (25 saves) and Niemi (32 saves) matched each other save-for-save as the game marched on late into the third period with the Devils still leading by just one goal. With Niemi on the bench for an extra-attacker and under a minute to go in the game Chicago tied the game, proving why they sit near the top of the Western Conference. Versteeg’s wrist shot went through both Hawks’ captain Jonathan Toews and Brodeur’s legs after ricocheting off of Mottau’s leg. “The style with these games is getting tighter and tighter,” Toews said, “and there’s less room to make little pretty plays. Like you saw — we had to find a way to score an ugly one at the end there.”

After nothing was solved in the five-minute overtime, the game went to the shootout where New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire tried to change his team’s fortunes by changing his order. “Because we haven’t had any luck going second, so let’s try to change it. Next time I’ll drink milk instead of water,” Lemaire said with a grin. Normally Brodeur will face the opposing shooter first at home, before the Devils send out their first shooter. “Don’t ask me, I was surprised as you guys,” said the goalie. “It was the first time I think, when we’ve had the decision to pick that they don’t shoot first.”

Instead Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner shot first and his attempt never got on net, and Brodeur surrendered a goal to Toews. “He skated (in), shot it and beat me. That’s exactly what I saw,” Brodeur said. “He didn’t do anything; he just came in and fired it past me.”

In round two, Niemi stopped Zach Parise’s backhand attempt and Brodeur gloved down Patrick Kane’s shot. New Jersey’s last hope was Kovalchuk and his backhand shot sailed over the crossbar, sealing the come-from behind victory for Chicago.

Game Notes: There were no penalties called in the game, the first time that’s ever happened for New Jersey in their franchise history and the first NHL game to feature no infractions since March 28, 2001 (Toronto vs. Boston). Devils center Dainius Zubrus didn’t play due to illness. Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith led all skaters in ice-time with 28:51 and Mottau led New Jersey with 24:52. Kovalchuk and Langenbrunner led all players with six shots on goal apiece; Dustin Byfuglien (played defense, normally a forward) led Chicago with five. Ex-Devil John Madden led all players in face-off pct. (8-2, 80%) in his first game in New Jersey as a visitor; Devils forward Rod Pelley led all players with seven hits. New Jersey (44-26-7) plays at Carolina (33-35-10) on Saturday night and Chicago (48-22-7) returns home to play Calgary (40-29-9) on Easter Sunday.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Antti Niemi (Chi) – 32 saves, win (22-7-3)

#2 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 25 saves, ot loss (41-24-6)

#3 – Kris Versteeg (Chi) – goal (18)

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for, & can be reached at

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