Six Devils Score in Crazy 6-4 Win Over Tampa

It wasn’t the prettiest game defensively, but the New Jersey Devils showed how dangerous they can be offensively when they rallied three times from one-goal deficits to blast past the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4 on Thursday night at Prudential Center. Six different players scored a goal in the win, showing just how deep their scoring depth is, matching the goal output they had in their three previous games; five Devils had multiple points in the win. For Tampa the lone bright spot was Ryan Malone who scored his team’s first three goals in recording his fourth career hat trick.

Malone opened the scoring with 44 seconds left in the first period, slamming the puck in from the side of Martin Brodeur’s  net after a point shot softly redirected to him.

Once the second period began, all hell broke loose in the Devils’ house; Dainius Zubrus scored a shorthanded goal at 3:07, converting a perfect saucer-pass from Patrik Elias at the end of a two-on-one. “It was the end of our shift, so we were a little tired,” said Zubrus of the odd-man rush. “Patty made a really nice saucer pass, over the defender’s stick; and it was flat, right on my (stick) tape. I don’t think you can ask for a better pass, and I just shot it right away.” Malone responded for the Lightning 93 seconds later when his attempted pass went past Brodeur off of New Jersey defenseman Marek Zidlicky’s skate. Jacob Josefson retied the game for the Devils 2:14 after Malone’s second goal, snapping a shot past the oft-helpless Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson.

Malone completed his hat trick at 10:13, giving the Lightning their final lead of the game when he was able to sweep a rebound past Brodeur from the edge of the goalmouth. Ilya Kovalchuk netted his team-leading 33rd goal after a pretty passing play with Zach Parise and Adam Henrique just over three minutes later, setting the stage for the Devils to grab a hold of the see-saw game. Six seconds into a power play Zidlicky atoned for his earlier misfortune when he blasted a rocket past Roloson to give New Jersey its first lead of the night, just 71 seconds after Kovalchuk had tied the game.

Alexei Ponikarovsky deftly tipped Bryce Salvador’s long shot past Roloson 2:25 into the final period; although the goal was announced as Salvador’s first of the season it was changed later by the official scorer. “I want to see the proof,” joked Salvador after the game. “I have to make sure Alex tipped it.” Ponikarovsky said he knew he had tipped it and told his teammate that on the bench. “I tipped it with my stick at my waist, I knew it was a good goal, there was no doubt in my mind (that it was mine).”

Less than four minutes later, Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson controlled the puck in Tampa’s zone for a while which resulted in the latter finding the puck and scoring his 29th of the season from atop the crease. Trevor Smith scored the final goal of the game with nine seconds remaining, only changing the final score but not the outcome. “We can’t be overconfident (after tonight),” said Ponikarovsky. “The next game, everything goes back to zero; we have to win another game. We have to do the same things and work hard to get goals.”

New Jersey’s magic number is down to one point — gained by them or lost by Buffalo.

Game Notes: Zidlicky led all skaters in ice-time with 21:33, while Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman led his squad with 21:12. Kovalchuk led all players with seven shots on goal and Malone led the Lightning with six. Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, playing in his first game since last Friday, had a game-high of four hits, also matched by Ponikarovsky. Henrique had two assists and was a +3 (game-high). Travis Zajac, playing in his third game back won 14 of the 18 face-offs he took. New Jersey (94 points, 6th in East) is off until Saturday when they play at Carolina (77 points, 13th in East) and that same night Tampa (77 points, 11th in East) returns home to host Winnipeg (78 points, 10th in East).

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ): goal (33), assist (44)
#2 — Ryan Malone (TB): 3 goals (18)
#3 — Patrik Elias (NJ): 2 assists (47)

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

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Congrats to the South-Islanders

Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning became the first team to advance to the NHL’s final four, securing a berth in the East Finals by sweeping the top-seeded Washington Capitals out of the playoffs. For fans of the New York Islanders, watching the Lightning advance could very well be bittersweet; five of Tampa’s 20-man playoff roster (1/4) are ex-Islanders and they all have played a major role in upsetting first the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Caps.

Dwayne Roloson has been Tampa’s backbone and is now victorious in seven consecutive games after his team was down 3 games to 1 against the Pens. The 41-year-old netminder was traded to the Sunshine State on January 1 in exchange for defenseman Ty Wishart.

Sean Bergenheim was signed as a free-agent this past summer (August 17)and is making first-year GM Steve Yzerman look like a genius. The former first round pick has seven goals in his first 11 playoff games after tallying 14 goals in 80 regular season games. He is part of a great line with ex-Ranger Dominic Moore and ex-Flyer Steve Downie that has dominated this postseason.

Nate Thompson was claimed on waivers by the Lightning in January of 2010 and has done everything the team has asked of him as a fourth-line center. We used to joke that he was Isles’ coach Scott Gordon’s pet because he followed the coach from Providence of the AHL to Long Island; apparently now his teammates refer to him as ‘Nate Boucher’ because he does everything and anything that rookie coach Guy Boucher asks of him.

Marc-Andre Bergeron is a defensive liability on any team, as the Islanders found out during his 69 games with the club in 2006-07. He did score 12 power play goals during that time and it’s his rocket shot that has kept him in the league despite his defensive deficiencies. He only has one goal in seven playoff games with Tampa, and yes it was a PP goal; oh and it was the game-winning goal that eliminated Washington.

Eric Brewer hasn’t played for the Islanders since 2000, but after stops in Edmonton and St. Louis he was acquired by the Lightning on February 18. He has provided solid defense and some scoring (1g-5a), while adding some experience to Tampa’s bruising blueline.

Tampa has been fun to watch and hopefully they give us another entertaining week or two or three as these playoffs roll on.

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Who Will Be the Beast of the East?

Eastern Conference predictions

Round 1:

(1) Washington over (8) NY Rangers

(7) Buffalo over (2) Philadelphia

(3) Boston over (6) Montreal

(4) Pittsburgh over (5) Tampa Bay

Round 2:

(1) Washington over (7) Buffalo

(3) Boston over (4) Pittsburgh

Round 3:

(3) Boston over (1) Washington

Washington (1)      vs.    NY Rangers (8)

Last Cup Win: Washington (never), NY Rangers (1994)

Why the Capitals will win: They aren’t intimidated by the Rangers or their goaltender whom has been known to get in some of his opponents’ heads (see: New Jersey Devils). Washington is also one of the deepest teams in the league and they will wear their undermanned first round opponent down.

Why the Rangers will win: They spanked Washington twice this season (6-0, 7-0) and when they are on their game, the Blueshirts have all of the necessary components to go toe-to-toe with any team in the league; solid goaltending, timely scoring and team defense will lead New York to the upset win over the Caps.

Washington’s most important player: Tempted to say Alex Ovechkin, but it’s Mike Green; if he is healthy and has fresh legs he could bury the Rangers (a team that has taken a penalty or two) with his power play prowess.

New York’s most important player: The soul of the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, if he falters, they are cooked. He’s only won two playoff series in his career, but his league-leading 11 shutouts this season tell you that he is capable of shutting down any team in the NHL.

Washington’s biggest question mark: It has to be the goaltending, despite the fact that they won the East with three goaltenders — two of them rookies. Michal Neuvirth will get the nod to begin the series, and that’s probably the right call. He won back-to-back Calder Cups for the Hershey Bears and was victorious in 27 of his 48 starts with the Caps this season.

New York’s biggest question mark: Which version of Marian Gaborik will show up in this series? Will it be the same Gaborik that had only 48 points (22 goals) in 62 games this season or will he become the two-time 40-goal scorer that the Rangers are paying for?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Washington (Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble), New York (Chris Drury, Ruslan Fedotenko)

PREDICTION: CAPITALS IN 6 — Gaborik and Lundqvist will show up and the Rangers will put up a fight, but Ovechkin will eliminate them with a hat trick in Game 6.

Philadelphia (2)     vs. Buffalo (7)

Last Cup Win: Philadelphia (1975), Buffalo (never)

Why the Flyers will win: Since the start of last season’s playoffs Philadelphia has probably been the best team in the NHL. With the talent on this roster they should walk all over the Sabres, but only if their power play finds itself. This season they ranked 19th in the NHL out of 30 teams, with a putrid 16.6%. Offensive juggernauts that were ranked ahead of them: Buffalo, Colorado, Atlanta, Minnesota and Ottawa.

Why the Sabres will win: They have Ryan Miller and the Flyers don’t; it’s as simple as that. He has won playoff series as the favorite and the underdog in his career, and Buffalo is the hottest team in the league heading into the playoffs. If Miller is at less than 100%, then the Sabres will be in trouble.

Philadelphia’s most important player: Chris Pronger’s presence alone will make a difference in the series, but only if he’s healthy enough to be there. His absence over the final weeks of the season is the reason the Flyers crashed and stumbled out of the East’s top spot.

Buffalo’s most important player: Aside from Miller, it’s Thomas Vanek who very quietly had a solid season — 73 points (32g-41a) in 80 games. If Drew Stafford can get into one of his hot streaks it will make a big difference in the series.

Philadelphia’s biggest question mark: As always since Ron Hextall left, it’s goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will start Game 1, but lurking behind him are somewhat proven veterans in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.

Buffalo’s biggest question mark: Can Tyler Myers and the Sabres’ defensive corps stop the flock of talented Flyers forwards is a good place to start; also how will smallish rookie Tyler Ennis (who had a real nice season) hold up in a seven-game series against the rugged Philadelphians?

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Philadelphia (Nick Boynton, Sean O’Donnell, Pronger, Kris Versteeg), Buffalo (Rob Niedermayer)

PREDICTION: SABRES IN 7 — Miller shines as Buffalo wins a l-e-n-g-t-h-y Game 7 in Philadelphia.

Boston (3)       vs. Montreal (6)

Last Cup Win: Boston (1972), Montreal (1993)

Why the Bruins will win: Boston’s depth is only matched by Washington in the East as far as I’m concerned, especially when your top three centers are Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Rich Peverley. The addition of Tomas Kaberle really balanced out the defense in Beantown too.

Why the Canadiens will win: If I had to pick one team in the East that would give Boston the biggest challenge, I’d say Montreal. These two teams know each other inside and out with all of their legendary battles throughout time. Also how will Boston react after blowing a three games-to-none lead in last year’s East semi-finals.

Boston’s most important player: Tim Thomas is the easy choice here, if he continues playing the way he did during the season (35-11-9, 2.00 GAA, .938 save %, 9 shutouts), the Bruins should be able to choke-out the sometimes offensively challenged Habs.

Montreal’s most important player: Where were you this season Scott Gomez? Horrible season (7g-31a, minus-15 in 80 games) from one of the veterans on the Canadiens, but during last spring’s run to the East Finals he put up 14 points in 19 games. If he can get on that type of run it would be much appreciated in Montreal.

Boston’s biggest question mark: The Bruins had a great year, but after choking away last season’s opportunity to beat the Flyers in the semis, anything less than a trip to the East Finals would be a failure. It will be interesting to see how they react if they get Montreal into an elimination game.

Montreal’s biggest question mark: Last season’s dramatic run was led by goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who is now with the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Carey Price’s turn and judging from the season he just had (38-28-6, 8 shutouts) he could be a difference maker, not only this season but for many, many more to come.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Boston (Mark Recchi (2), Shawn Thornton), Montreal (Gomez (2), Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Hal Gill, Brent Sopel)

PREDICTION: BRUINS IN 7 – Boston will bend, but won’t break as they hold off the Habs; Nathan Horton, playing in his first playoffs, will have a monster series.

Pittsburgh (4)                vs. Tampa Bay (5)

Last Cup Win: Pittsburgh (2009), Tampa Bay (2004)

Why the Penguins will win: They have an elite goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal will not only shut down Steven Stamkos, but he’ll also chip in a few big goals.

Why the Lightning will win: Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, the Lightning can focus their attention on solid team defense and timely goals. Whether or not Stamkos and Simon Gagne can score multiple times will be determining factors in the series.

Pittsburgh’s most important player: It will be all of their penalty killers; they led the league killing off penalties at an 86.2% clip and if they can shut down Tampa’s powerful power play the series could be a quick one.

Tampa Bay’s most important player: If he becomes a playoff-beast once again, it will be the league’s second leading point getter Martin St. Louis (99 points). He’s a proven playoff performer (48 pts in 45 games) and if he gets hot the Pens will become postseason spectators.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question mark: If there is a small chance he can play, does Pittsburgh risk everything and put Crosby out there? If Crosby doesn’t play, who else besides Staal is going to contribute offensively?

Tampa Bay’s biggest question mark: In the 2006 playoffs, Dwayne Roloson led the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and then blew out his knee in Game 1. That was the last time he played in a playoff game, so five years later it’s hard to tell what you are going to get from the veteran netminder.

Players with Stanley Cup Rings: Pittsburgh (Chris Kunitz (2), Craig Adams (2), Fleury, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Alex Kovalev, Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Tyler Kennedy, Michael Rupp, Max Talbot, Eric Godard), Tampa Bay (Vincent Lecavalier, St. Louis, Pavel Kubina)

PREDICTION: PENGUINS IN 7 — The Lightning prove to be a valiant opponent but Fleury will top Roloson in a wild Game 7

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

Off the Ice with…Martin Biron

Recently I was able to screen New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron long enough to ask him a few questions about the life of an NHL goalie, as well as his favorite movie, TV shows and what he brings with him on road trips. Biron is a 33-year-old from Lac St. Charles, Quebec, who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the first round (16th overall) in 1995. Over his 13 NHL seasons his record is 212-178-49 in 469 games, with 26 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save pct. He is considered one of the ‘good guys’ of the NHL, always a good interview and trust me — he has never met a microphone he didn’t like. His best season to date was probably in 2001-02 when he won 31 of the 72 games he appeared in for the Sabres and posted a stellar 2.22 GAA.

Biron finally made the Sabres roster as a regular during the 1999-2000 season, as the backup to future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and finished the year with a 19-18-2 record and five shutouts. In total he played parts of nine seasons in Buffalo, but never really had a hold on the number one goalie job. After finally taking over when Hasek left to play in Detroit, Biron broke his thumb and the Sabres called up Ryan Miller, who is still the starting netminder in Buffalo’s crease today (see: 2010 Vezina Trophy, 2010 Silver Medal for Team USA). During the 2006-07 season, Biron was dealt to Philadelphia and the following season he helped lead the Flyers to the East Finals before losing against Pittsburgh. He stayed in the Philly for a total of two and a half seasons and in 2009-10 he served as Dwayne Roloson’s backup with the New York Islanders, but he had only signed a one-year contract there. This past summer, he inked a two-year deal with the Rangers, to give All-Star Henrik Lundqvist (who has been overplayed) some more games off.

So far this season he has done exactly what the Rangers have asked of him — in seven games he is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a 2.33 GAA. So just who is Martin Biron off the ice? Read on:

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first win in the NHL?

Martin Biron: “Oh, I remember I got called up from Rochester (AHL) to play against Dallas at home, in Buffalo; I was having a pretty good year in Rochester, (my second year there). A bunch of my buddies from Pee-Wee hockey and Bantam hockey from Quebec City decided to drive up, so they were at the game. I remember Rob Ray made a joke, a funny comment before the game, between warm-ups and the start of the game, he said: ‘Don’t worry Marty, if it doesn’t go well, you’ll get over it; we all do.’ It was a subtle comment, but relaxed me before I had to play against the defending champion Dallas Stars. I played a solid game, we won 2-1; it was one of those days where I don’t remember what happened in the game. It was so crazy and I’ve played so many games between now and then, but I remember little things like that. At the end of the game — the excitement of having your first NHL win was incredible. Then we had a huge snowstorm, so the next day we got snowed in and didn’t have practice; so I got to sleep in and enjoy the first win a little bit more! A couple of days later we played Philadelphia and tied 1-1, so I had a really good week my first week in the NHL.”

DR: Do you have the puck from that first win?

MB: “I do. It’s at my parents’ place right now on a plaque in the basement. I’ve got a picture that my sister-in-law got me in a frame, and it’s engraved: first NHL win, Dallas 1, Buffalo 2 with the date. It’s kind of funny because I have my arms up and I’m on one leg celebrating the win (smiles).”

DR: What are your memories from the day you were drafted?

MB: “It was so exciting. It was in Edmonton in 1995, there was a lot of excitement in not knowing where you were going to be drafted. Was I going to go in the first round or not? I had talked to a lot of teams, but funny enough I hadn’t talked to Buffalo at all. Four picks before Buffalo was to pick made a trade — they traded (Alexander) Mogilny to Vancouver and in exchange they got (Mike) Peca and an extra first round pick. They picked Jay McKee with that pick and then about three picks later it was their time again and I was sitting there and saw the NHL people coming over to my section, cameras starting to get ready; I kind of had an idea that they may take me with that second, first round pick. I heard my name and when I went on stage I remember posing with the team’s personnel, just standing there and one of the guys said to me ‘You can wave to the crowd.’ I kind of just waved my hand and was shy, didn’t know what to do really. It was a very fun day — my whole family was there, it was a lot of excitement.”

DR: Do you have a best friend in the NHL?

MB: “Yeah, me being a goalie it’s kind of funny because a lot of guys are usually good friends with their D-partner or their linemate; for me as a goalie, you play with so many guys and you get to be good friends with your goaltending partner. Over the years I’ve gotten to be really good friends with JP Dumont, in Buffalo we were roommates together. I am really, really good friends with Danny Briere, we were roommates together in Buffalo after JP left for Nashville and then we played together in Philly for a couple of years. Some of the guys I have played with I stay close with in the summer like Jay McKee, Michael Peca — those are guys that in the summertime in Buffalo we do the family thing, going out together and always keep in touch; text or talk once in a while during the year. Those are probably the closest group of friends I have around the league right now.

DR: Do you have a favorite sport other than hockey?

MB: “I do, I’m a big golf fan; I like to play, but I don’t play as much as I used to. My little guy is six now and he wants to play, so it’s fun. We go to the range and go to the course a little bit. I love baseball; I’ve always been a big fan of the game. I loved it growing up; I still play slo-pitch during the summer. That’s so much fun during a nice summer day. I’d say those are my two top sports outside of hockey.”

DR: What’s your favorite movie?

MB: “Movies kind of change, they come and go. It depends on what kind of mood you catch me in. One of my favorite movies would be The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Every time that movie is on I get drawn to it, I like the excitement of it and the mental aspect of it; I think it’s a really well done movie. It’s one of those you pop into the DVD player once in a while just to watch it again.”

DR: What’s your favorite TV show?

MB: “I love The Office, my wife and I watch it all the time. Now she’s gotten me into Modern Family, that show is so funny; definitely one of my favorites. Another one that I like is Entourage, I got to meet the guy that plays E (Kevin Connolly) being in Long Island last year and he’s a huge Islanders’ fan. It’s kind of fun when you get to meet somebody and see them on the TV. Those are my favorite TV shows right now.”

DR: Typically, what do you bring on a road trip?

MB: “Typically I bring my iPad, my Kindle and I will bring a change of clothes depending on how long the trip is. My iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle are usually the things that I bring with me everywhere. I never liked to read much, and my wife got me a Kindle a few years back and now I’ve read so many books on that thing. I don’t know, I’m just a gadgety kind of guy, so I think that thing is kind of cool. I always have that with me and I always carry my Bible with me, we are a Christian family and with the kids; it’s always something I like to go back to. Those are the things that always stay in my bag and the rest of the things, they change around depending where we go and how long I am gone for.”

I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Martin Biron and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you’d like to see a player asked, let me know:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Devils 4 Islanders 3 … preseason (10.01.10)

Last night at Prudential Center the New Jersey Devils raced out to a 4-1 lead over the New York Islanders and held on for a 4-3 win in front of an announced crowd of 13,596. Jason Arnott and Zach Parise had a goal and an assist each for the Devils, while Travis Zajac had two assists. For New York, Matt Moulson had a strong game with two goals and captain Doug Weight looked like his old self (after off-season shoulder surgery) with two assists.

Both goalies played the entire game: Martin Brodeur made 23 saves and Dwayne Roloson made 24; Jesse Joensuu also scored for the Isles and Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston chipped in goals for New Jersey. The same two teams play again tonight at the Nassau Coliseum, finishing out the preseason schedule. The Devils open the season on October 8, hosting the Dallas Stars and the Islanders open their season on October 9, also hosting Dallas. I will post some postgame quotes from Arnott, Brodeur & Zajac later today or tomorrow.

Here are the line combos/d-pairings that started the game for both squads:

New Jersey:
Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Elias-Arnott-Tedenby
Rolston-Josefson-Langenbrunner
Mair-Pelley-Palmieri

Greene-Corrente
Tallinder-Urbom
White-Taormina

New York:
Joensuu-Weight-Kolanos
Moulson-Nielsen-Niederreiter
Bailey-Schremp-Rakhshani
Gillies-McAmmond-Ortmeyer

MacDonald-Hamonic
Hillen-Gervais
Jurcina-de Haan