Beating the nettlesome New Jersey Devils at their own game, the Penguins rode a 21-save shutout performance by Marc-Andre Fleury to a crisp 1-0 shootout victory over their Atlantic Division foes. The Pens’ third win in a row—all by shootout—narrowed the gap between the Steel City sextet and the front-running Flyers to two points.
As a general rule, games between the Penguins and Devils pack as much action as a grandmasters chess match. That certainly was true of a dull, watch-the-paint-dry opening period, as the slow-starting Pens and the neutral-zone clogging Devils combined for all of four shots on goal.
“It wasn’t the prettiest first period,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. “But you have to give credit to both sides, limiting the offenses and time and space out there.”
The Pens began to find their legs in the second period, to the delight of the 18,329 fans in attendance at CONSOL Energy Center. Five minutes into the frame Chris Kunitz rifled off a quick shot from inside the right circle, only to be denied by Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Moments later a rising shot by Kunitz rang off the crossbar. Max Talbot nearly cashed in for the all-important first goal at the 15-minute mark, but Brodeur turned aside his deflection.
Although they continued to control the tempo, the Penguins got into penalty trouble midway through the final frame. Matt Niskanen was whistled off at 11:18, and Ben Lovejoy drew a hooking call at 15:40. With their backs to the wall, Fleury and the penalty-killers came up big to keep the Devils off the scoreboard. It didn’t hurt to be lucky, either, as New Jersey sniper Ilya Kovalchuk fanned on a golden opportunity from point-blank range.
The Pens had their chances in overtime. Slumping Alexei Kovalev clanged a backhander off the crossbar early in the extra stanza and ex-Devil Paul Martin steered a deflection into Brodeur’s pads. The sure-fire Hall of Famer held the Pens in check to record his ninth career shutout against the black and gold.
For the second time in three games James Neal proved to be the shootout hero. The big winger swooped down the right side of the New Jersey zone and cut through the slot, waiting for Brodeur to make his move. When the Devils’ netminder sprawled toward him, Neal snapped a crackling shot off the crossbar for the game-winning tally. Fleury made a spectacular glove save on Patrik Elias to seal the victory.
The Pens are 7-2 in their last nine games … Fleury has posted four of his 19 career shutouts on March 25 … The four first-period shots were the fewest for both teams in Penguins history … Mike Comrie suited up for the first time since November 24 … Dustin Jeffrey sat out with a right knee injury … Mark Letestu missed his fourth game in a row.
The Penguins square-off against the Florida Panthers on Sunday in a matinee game (1 PM) at the CONSOL. With 68 points, the Panthers are well out of range for a playoff berth.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.