Sharks’ Comeback Bites Devils in Shootout

San Jose 4              Devils 3   — shootout

Over the past few seasons the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks have played some wildly entertaining games and Friday night at the Prudential Center was no different, as the visiting Sharks rallied from two goals down and beat the Devils in a shootout after tying the game again with 33 seconds left in regulation. Johan Hedberg ended up as the hard-luck loser in this one as he was brilliant in goal for New Jersey, finishing with 37 saves. “I thought he was great,” said coach Peter DeBoer after the game, “he gave us a chance to win, to get a point.”

The Devils opened the scoring 13:53into the game when Patrik Elias scored off a perfect circle-to-circle pass from Ilya Kovalchuk, snapping a wrist shot top shelf past Sharks netminder Antti Niemi. The power play goal was the 92nd of Elias’ career, tying him with John MacLean for most in franchise history.

With 2:52left in the period, the Devils lost their second line center Jacob Josefson when he crashed hard into the boards behind the San Jose goal. The 20-year-old skated immediately to the bench and into the locker room with his right arm dangling; it was later announced he had a broken right clavicle.

Thirty-six seconds into the second period Zach Parise was awarded a penalty shot when Sharks defenseman Brent Burns pulled him down on a shorthanded breakaway. The Devils captain has become a master of sorts in penalty shots/shootout attempts lately and he continued that reputation as he increased the lead to 2-0, faking out Niemi with his forehand and slipping a backhand shot through the goalie’s five-hole.

Hedberg held the Sharks scoreless as long as he could with the shot total rising rapidly, but he was finally beaten 15:18into the second when Joe Thornton’s wrist shot slid into the net under the goalie’s pads. “I’m not sure how that went in,” Hedberg admitted, “it surprised me too; I don’t know why I didn’t stop that, I’m not sure actually.” Ryane Clowe completed the comeback and evened the score 1:03 later when the puck pin-balled off of his shin pad and found the back of the net.

San  Jose continued to outshoot the Devils but the game remained even until 13:18 had elapsed and David Clarkson scored his second goal in as many games, converting a beautiful spin-o-rama feed from Mattias Tedenby. “He made a great play to me in front,” said Clarkson, “I had enough time and found the back of the net.”

Victory for New Jersey seemed certain until the final minute when with their goalie pulled for an extra-attacker, the Sharks tied the game as Joe Pavelski wired a shot through a maze of players in front of the crease. Hedberg appeared to be interfered with on the play, and he tried to plead his case but the officials didn’t see it that way and the game was tied. “We were thirty seconds away from winning the game and we still had a chance in the shootout,” said Parise afterwards. “I think we know we have to be a lot better. It wasn’t our best game tonight and we know there are going to be more of those, but we definitely need to be better for tomorrow.”

The game remained 3-3 after a five-minute overtime, sending the outcome to be decided by a shootout. Kovalchuk scored first, beating Niemi with a rising backhand and Pavelski’s attempt went wide of Hedberg’s cage. Parise was denied on his attempt, evening the score between he and Niemi. “He made a good save on it,” said Parise. Niemi didn’t want to get burned on the same move as earlier and was ready. “You can’t really cheat too much,” said the Sharks’ goalkeeper. “You just have to try and wait him out.” Michal Handzus evened the tie breaker with a shot that hit the goalpost and then went in off Hedberg’s back.

Elias attempted a wrist shot through the goalie’s five-hole and was denied and Clowe won the game when he flipped a backhand over the Moose’s glove hand. “I’ve taken a few shootouts now over the years and that’s kind of my go-to move, I usually go backhand,” said Clowe. “It’s a little easier I guess when I face Eastern Conference goalies because they don’t get to see you as much. Hedberg’s kind of a smaller goalie and I have a long stick, long reach; I try to use that when I go to my backhand. I think he was over there, but I got it up over his pad.”

Game Notes: Thornton (the Sharks captain) played in his 1000th NHL game, and had two points, giving him 42 points in 34 career games against New Jersey. Colin White played his first game against the team he spent the past 11 seasons with and the two-time Stanley Cup winner was applauded by the Devils fans when he was announced during pre-game in the San Jose starting lineup; he played 14:44, led all players with three hits, was minus-1 and had one shot on goal. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 32:25 and Dan Boyle led the Sharks with 31:23. Pavelski, Boyle and Clowe led all players with six shots on goal, and Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (3-1-1) is back in action Saturday night when they play at Pittsburgh (5-2-2) and San Jose (2-3-0) will also be in action that night when they play at Boston (3-4-0).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Joe Pavelski (SJ) – goal (3), assist (1)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 37 saves, OT loss (3-0-1)

#3 – David Clarkson (NJ) – goal (2), assist (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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How the West Will Be Won

How the West Will Be Won

Western Conference predictions

Round 1:

(8) Chicago over (1) Vancouver

(7) Los Angeles over (2) San Jose

(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix

(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville

Round 2:

(8) Chicago over (3) Detroit

(4) Anaheim over (7) Los Angeles

Round 3:

(4) Anaheim over (8) Chicago

Vancouver (1)        vs. Chicago (8)

Last Cup Win: Vancouver (never), Chicago (2010)

Why the Canucks will win: The team won the President’s Trophy (117 points), Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider won the Jennings Trophy (185 goals-against) and Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy (104 points). This team is built to win now and this is probably the first of their two-year window of opportunity to do just that.

Why the Blackhawks will win: Their nucleus from last year’s championship is still in tact despite losing several key pieces; and Patrick Kane brought his playoff-mullet back.

Vancouver’s most important player: Whichever player replaces Manny Malhotra (eye injury) as the third-line center; his ability to win key face-offs and his lead-by-example attitude will be sorely missed.

Chicago’s most important player: Captain Jonathan Toews has led the Hawks’ playoff push in the second half and he will need to continue with that effort to help his team advance past the Canucks.

Vancouver’s biggest question mark: Can Luongo finally beat Chicago? Two years in a row the Canucks were sent packing for the summer by the ‘Hawks; if Vancouver does win the series will it be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things?

Chicago’s biggest question mark: The Blackhawks will try for a second consecutive spring to win the Cup with a rookie goalie. Corey Crawford had a stellar season, but can he duplicate Antti Niemi’s 2010 success? If Crawford falters, Chicago can always send in Marty Turco.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Vancouver (Mikael Samuelsson), Chicago (Dave Bolland, Toews, Troy Brouwer, Marian Hossa, Kane, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, Jassen Cullimore, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook).

PREDICTION: HAWKS IN 6 Luongo may be crying again after this one as the rejuvenated champs begin their defense of the Cup by eliminating the Canucks swiftly.

San Jose (2)            vs. Los Angeles (7)

Last Cup Win: San Jose (never), Los Angeles (never)

Why the Sharks will win: San Jose’s players have a lot of playoff experience, just not too many winning experiences though. The additions of Antti Niemi and Ben Eager (who won the Cup with Chicago last season) should help, but will it be enough for this underachieving bunch to finally make the Finals?

Why the Kings will win: Two words — Jarret Stoll. One of the NHL’s most underrated players is very important to LA’s success. He was a key cog in the Oilers’ run to the ’06 Finals and whether it’s winning a key face-off or scoring a clutch goal, you can expect to see Stoll’s name a lot if the Kings are to do some damage this spring.

San Jose’s most important player: Dany Heatley, He had a very un-Heatley like season this year (26g-38a), but he can make that a distant memory if he’s clutch in the postseason.

Los Angeles’ most important player: Jonathan Quick, He’s made the big saves all season long and is the rock solid foundation of the Kings’ stingy defense. With the offense hurting, he will have to steal a game or two for his squad to advance.

San Jose’s biggest question mark: Niemi, yes he won the Stanley Cup in the Windy City in 2010, but the ‘Hawks defense was and is a lot better than the Sharks’ blueline.

Los Angeles’ biggest question mark: Where will the Kings’ goal scoring come from with their top two scorers (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams) sidelined? Paging Wayne Simmonds

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: San Jose (Dan Boyle, Eager, Kent Huskins, Niclas Wallin, Niemi), Los Angeles (Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Williams)

PREDICTION: KINGS IN 7Quick will steal two games, including Game 7 in the Shark Tank.

Detroit (3)              vs. Phoenix (6)

Last Cup Win: Detroit (2008), Phoenix (never)

Why the Wings will win: Detroit has too many savvy and talented players to lose in the first round right? Look for Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Modano to have big impacts in this opening round series.

Why the Coyotes will win: For two consecutive seasons now Phoenix has hovered around the NHL’s elite with back-to-back stellar regular seasons. Obviously this is not a fluke and captain Shane Doan just might get out of the first round for the first time in his career.

Detroit’s most important player: Johan Franzen aka ‘The Mule’ is an absolute proven playoff beast — 69 points (35g-34a) in 75 career playoff games — and if Phoenix has any hopes of surviving this series they better find a way to corral the large Swede; he also has 11 playoff game-winning goals.

Phoenix’s most important player: Ilya Bryzgalov
is the backbone of the Coyotes and could be the biggest factor in knocking the Wings out. His 36 wins and seven shutouts this season place him among the NHL’s elite netminders going forward.

Detroit’s biggest question mark: How healthy is Henrik Zetterberg is the main question in the Motor City; if he is at less than 100% the Wings could be ripe for the taking against the hungry Desert Dogs. He will definitely miss Game 1 with a left leg injury.

Phoenix’s biggest question mark: Can they finally get past the big, bad Red Wings? They should be motivated and know what to do after being eliminated in seven games by Detroit in last year’s first round.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Detroit (Pavel Datsyuk (2), Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski (3), Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom (4), Nicklas Kronwall, Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom (4), Kris Draper (4), Brad Stuart, Drew Miller, Darren Helm, Chris Osgood (3), Modano), Phoenix (Bryzgalov, Ray Whitney)

PREDICTION: RED WINGS IN 7 Experience wins out for the Wings, but they will get another scare from the gritty Coyotes.

Anaheim (4)           vs. Nashville (5)

Last Cup Win: Anaheim (2007), Nashville (never)

Why the Ducks will win: Who on Nashville can stop Corey Perry? No one in the league has been able to contain the league’s leading goal scorer (50) in the 2nd half, so good luck Preds.

Why the Predators will win: Defense wins championships, and Nashville has two of the NHL’s premiere defensemen (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter) plus a Vezina Trophy candidate in Pekka Rinne.

Anaheim’s most important player: I think it will be Saku Koivu’s time to shine in the first round. With all of the defensive attention (and rightfully so) being paid to the Ducks’ top line, watch out for the Finnish dynamic duo of Koivu and Teemu Selanne to wreck havoc.

Nashville’s most important player: If Rinne can stand on his head (and get in his opponents’ head) the Ducks might be in trouble here. His numbers (2.12 GAA, 33 wins, .930 save %, six shutouts) speak for themselves, but his ability to take over a game can’t be measured in numbers. Nashville’s penalty killers (fifth overall) will be tested against Anaheim’s power play (third overall).

Anaheim’s biggest question mark: Who’s in goal for them? Is it All-Star Jonas Hiller, vagabond Dan Ellis or head case Ray Emery? If one of these tenders steps up the Ducks will be hard to eliminate and SoCal could be celebrating their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Nashville’s biggest question mark: Who the heck is going to score for this team? They have only two 20-goal scorers (Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist) and obviously rely on defense and scoring by committee. If Mike Fisher and JP Dumont find their scoring touches, the Predators could pull off the upset.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Anaheim (Ryan Getzlaf, George Parros, Perry, Selanne, Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, Andreas Lilja), Nashville (none)

PREDICTION: DUCKS IN 5 The Ducks will be too powerful for the gutsy Preds; the series will only go five games, but each game will probably have a 2-1 final score.

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Kovalchuk Comes Up Clutch Again as Devils Nip Sharks

Two of the NHL’s hottest teams squared off on Friday night at the Rock as the San Jose Sharks visited the New Jersey Devils. The unstoppable force met the immovable object — San Jose is 9-0-1 in their last ten games, New Jersey is 5-0-1 over their last six contests. For the second night in a row the Devils won a game by a score of 2-1, and for the second night in a row Ilya Kovalchuk had the game-winning goal.

The game remained scorelees through two periods due to stellar and sharp netminding by the Devils’ Johan Hedberg and the Sharks’ Antti Niemi. Finally 6:08 into the third period Hedberg blinked first, surrendering Patrick Marleau’s 21st goal of the season on the 27th shot he faced in the game. Just over three minutes later Brian Rolston tied the game on a one-timer during a 4-on-3 power play, after a nice set-up pass by Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk gave his team it’s first lead of the night with 3:59 left, firing a shot through Niemi’s arm/body after a face-off win by Travis Zajac; he now has 12 points (6g-6a) over his last nine games. The win moves the Devils only 11 points behind the 8th place Carolina Hurricanes. Kovalchuk’s goal was his sixth game-winner of the season and he now has points in seven consecutive games.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) — gw goal (19), assist (19): King Kovy strikes again.
#2 — Johan Hedberg (NJ) — 31 saves, win (9): The Moose has another solid performance.
#3 — Travis Zajac (NJ) — assist (24),  11 face-off wins: Who needs Zach Parise right Travis?

 

Overachiever/Underachiever…

With the season almost a month old and today being a rare off day for all 30 NHL teams, I figured it would be a good time to look at each team and see which players have caught my eye as under and overachievers.

Anaheim:

Over —  Teemu Selanne: at age 40 the Finnish Flash still has some gas left in the tank with 12 points (5g-7a) in 12 games. He didn’t want to retire the same summer as Scott Niedermayer, so expect this to be Team Teemu’s swan song.

Under — Jonas Hiller: Only 3 wins in 9 games played with a ghastly 3.13 GAA after the last two seasons when he posted 2.73 (2009-10) and 2.39 (2008-09).

Atlanta:

Over — Andrew Ladd: after winning the Cup with Chicago, Ladd was a salary ‘cap-rifice’ and traded to the Thrashers where he has tallied 12 points (4g-8a) in 11 games.

Under — Bryan Little: There are a few choices here (Antropov, Modin, Bogosian), but I’ll go with Little who has seen his goal production drop from 31 (2008-09)  to 13 (2009-10) to 1. More is needed out of the 12th overall pick in 2006 if Atlanta is going to make any noise this season.

Boston:

Over — Tim Thomas: Sure he won the Vezina Trophy two seasons ago, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by his success, but take a look at these numbers: 6-0-0 in six starts, 3 shutouts and a GAA of 0.50!! The Drew Carey lookalike is pain-free and found his game again.

Under — Blake Wheeler: Only two assists in eight games; he could be trade bait once Marc Savard is ready to return from post-concussion syndrome.

Buffalo:

Over — Tyler Ennis: He has seven points this season (in 12 games) and entered the season with nine career points in 10 career games, so not much was expected of the youngster.

Under — Tyler Myers: The reigning Rookie of the Year may be falling victim to the ‘sophomore jinx’ because he is an NHL-worst  minus-10 this season…yikes!!

Calgary:

Over — Brendan Morrison: The guy didn’t sign until after training camp and leads the team with 10 points (3g-7a) in 11 games; ’nuff said.

Under — Jarome Iginla: The team’s captain and heart & soul has only two goals so far, which isn’t very good for a guy with 443 career goals and nine consecutive seasons with 30-plus goals.

Carolina:

Over — Jeff Skinner: The youngest player in the league (18) is tied for the team lead with seven points (3g-4a) and the seventh overall pick in last June’s draft hasn’t looked out of place at all.

Under — Brandon Sutter: After wetting our appetites with 2 goals in the season-opener, Brent Sutter’s son has only managed one measly assist in the following nine contests.

Chicago:

Over — Patrick Sharp: Leads the NHL in goals (10) and is third in points (15); eh, what Cup hangover?

Under — Niklas Hjalmarsson: The Hawks wanted to keep him so bad they let Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi go to San Jose; now the blueliner has 0 points in 11 games & is a minus-8.

Colorado:

Over — tie, John-Michael Liles or Chris Stewart: Liles has 11 assists in 11 games (t-1st in NHL); Stewart has two hat tricks and is second in the NHL in points (16) and goals (9).

Under — Craig Anderson: The goalie’s play last season meant so much to the young Avs as they made the playoffs; this season he is 3-4-0 and hurt his right knee during warmups this week, and is out indefinitely.

Columbus:

Over — Chris Clark: He has six assists in eight games for the low-scoring Blue Jackets.

Under — Rick Nash: Only five points (3g-2a) through the first ten games and is a team-worst minus-8. Not good enough.

Dallas:

Over — James Neal: The third-year pro is off to a nice start of 10 points (5g-5a) in 10 games and could surpass hsi career-high of 55 points set last season.

Under — Jamie Benn: After 41 points in his rookie season, he has gotten off to a slow start with one goal and five points through seven games.

Detroit:

Over — Jimmy Howard: Nice record (4-0-1) in his second full season with the mighty Red Wings; he is proving that he’s the real deal and learning from vet Chris Osgood everyday.

Under — Mike Modano: He scored on his first shift as a Wing but hasn’t done squat since. Perhaps he should have just walked away after 20 years with the Stars organization.

Edmonton:

Over — Jordan Eberle: The rookie has eight points in his first nine games and two highlight-reel shorthanded goals; keep an eye on this kid.

Under — Andrew Cogliano: Only has two points in nine games; he should be better in what is now his fourth full season with the Oilers.

Florida:

Over — Marty Reasoner: The journeyman has seven points in his first nine games for the Panthers, giving them some much-needed offense.

Under — Stephen Weiss: One of the longest tenured Cats is having a rough start with only three points through eight games and he’s a minus-6.

Los Angeles:

Over — Jaret Stoll: Just about every team would take 10 points (4g-6a) from their third-line center through 11 games.

Under — Drew Doughty: Only one point in five games, plus he suffered a concussion.

Minnesota:

Over — Matt Cullen: Ten points in ten games was probably not expected when they signed the reliable center during the summer, but the traditionally offense-starved Wild will take it.

Under — Martin Havlat: The talented, yet oft-injured winger should have more than six assists in the club’s first ten games. Chances are he will be dealt at some point this season.

Montreal:

Over — Carey Price: The young goalie looked abysmal during the preseason, but he has rebounded nicely with a 6-3-1 record putting the Habs atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Under — tie, Scott Gomez, or Brian Gionta: The two ex-Devils have one goal and two assists each in 11 games, and are no longer considered the Canadiens top line.

Nashville:

Over — Anders Lindback: Another year, the Preds produce another young goalie. The rookie is 3-0-1 in his first four NHL starts. One of these years people will realize that Barry Trotz is a great coach.

Under — Patric Hornqvist: After posting 30 goals last season, he has only potted 3 in ten games this year.

New Jersey:

Over — tie, Matt Taormina or Dainius Zubrus: Taormina, a rookie defenseman, is tied for the team-lead in goals with three; Zubrus leads the team in points (7), and assists (6).

Under — Martin Brodeur: The all-time leader in wins is off to a rocky start (3-7-1); is it his age (38) or the amount of rookie defensemen (3) in front of him on a nightly basis?

NY Islanders:

Over — James Wisniewski: The late-summer acquisition has been excellent for the Isles with a team-leading 11 points (2g-9a) in nine games; his performance has been equal to what you would expect from Mark Streit, who is out until March with a shoulder injury.

Under — Trent Hunter: Two assists in eight games;  coupled with the fact he has never come close to duplicating the 51 points he put up in 2003-04 make you wonder why he is still on the Islanders and in the NHL.

NY Rangers:

Over — Ryan Callahan: Even before Marian Gaborik went down with an injury, more was expected of Callahan this season; he has been the Rangers most consistent performer with a team-leading 11 points (4g-7a) in 10 games.

Under — tie, Gaborik or Chris Drury: They’ve played a combined four games this season, which may explain why the Blueshirts are playing like a .500 team.

Ottawa:

Over — Pascal Leclaire: Injured again and sporting an 0-2-1 record; if the Sens are smart they’ll stick with Brian Elliott or start looking to make a trade for a real no. 1 goalie: see Martin Biron, Jonathan Bernier.

Under — Milan Michalek: It’s tough when you are traded for a 50-goal scorer like Dany Heatley; it’s even tougher when you only have five points in ten games and no points on the PP.

Philadelphia:

Over — Sergei Bobrovsky: The latest in a long, long, long line of Flyers goalies has started the season strong, going 5-2-0 in his first seven NHL games.  Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

Under — James van Riemsdyk: More was expected of van Riemsdyk in his second NHL season, but so far he only has four assists in 11 games.

Phoenix:

Over — Eric Belanger: All that can be said is that Belanger leads the team in scoring with six points in ten games.

Under — Shane Doan: The Coyotes captain has only two points, both assists, in seven games; both points came in the same game.

Pittsburgh:

Over — Brent Johnson: The ‘backup’ goalie has a 5-0-1 record this season with one shutout and a 1.16 GAA.

Under — Marc-Andre Fleury: The ‘starting’ goalie has a 1-5-0 record this season with a 3.35 GAA; can you say goaltending controversy?

San Jose:

Over — Antero Niittymaki: The ex-Flyer and Lightning goalie has started the season strong with a 4-0-1 record for the hungry Sharks, and for the moment has the no. 1 job over Antti Niemi.

Under — Devin Setoguchi: Only one goal and one assist through nine games is a disappointing start for the 8th overall pick in 2005.

St. Louis:

Over — Alex Pieterangelo: He is tied for the team lead in +/- with a plus-6 as the 4th overall pick in 2008 looks to stay with the Blues for a whole season finally.

Under — Brad Boyes: Only has one goal in nine games and its beginning to look like he won’t ever reach 43 goals again like he scored in 2007-08.

Tampa Bay:

Over — Steven Stamkos: Okay, I knew Stamkos was good, but he is turning into a superstar and has Hart Trophy written all over him; and turning Tampa into a force to be reckoned with in the East. 19 points, 1st in the NHL. 9 goals, 2nd in the NHL. 10 assists, tied for second in the NHL.  plus-9, 2nd in the NHL.

Under — Simon Gagne: His first season with a team other than Philly has been a disaster. No points in six games, and now is on IR with a stiff neck.

Toronto:

Over —Clarke McArthur: He had five goals in his first four games as a Leaf, and has given them the second line scoring they so desperately need to stay in contention for a playoff berth.

Under — Kris Versteeg: Aside from the goal and assist he posted in game two of the season he has done nothing else for the Leafs and is a prime candidate to be traded if Toronto continues to play well.

Vancouver:

Over — Corey Schneider: He has made two starts and gave up only one goal in each; he is sporting a sparkling 2-0-0 record with a .970 save%.

Under — Roberto Luongo: The former captain of the Canucks has stumbled out of the gates this season with a 2-3-2 record and no shutouts.

Washington:

Over — Michal Neuvirth: He has taken the no. 1 goalie job away from Semyon Varlamov and ran with it, going 7-3-0 with a 2.15 GAA for the high-flying Caps.

Under — Mike Knuble: One goal and four points in 11 games, no PP points.

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 NYCSportsnetwork.com, & can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

line-combos/d-pairings
New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Langebrunner
Kovalchuk-Elias-Zharkov
Rolston-Niedermayer-Clarkson
Leblond-McAmmond-Pelley

Greene-Salvador
Martin-Skoula
Mottau-White

Chicago:
Sharp-Toews-Hossa
Brouwer-Bolland-Kane
Ladd-Madden-Versteeg
Eager-C.Fraser-Kopecky

Keith-Byfuglien
Seabrook-Hjalmarsson
Sopel-Hendry