The Devils completed their sweep of the Penguins this weekend, taking both games in the home-and-home series between the clubs with a 3-1 win on Sunday night in Pittsburgh after a 3-1 win on Saturday in New Jersey.
With Sunday’s victory, the Devils are now three points ahead of the Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand.
David Clarkson scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk also found the back of the net for the Devils. James Neal scored for Pittsburgh. Johan Hedberg made 23 saves and Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 for the Penguins.
“I think we were better than we were yesterday, but that’s not the way you play," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You play to win games and I think you have to find a way to get the result you want. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do that this weekend.”
After taking 10 penalties in a 3-1 loss to the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday, the Penguins certainly cleaned up their game tonight. They took just one minor penalty the entire game, but the Devils managed to convert it for a goal – Clarkson’s second of the game to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead. The Devils forward got rewarded for being in the dirty areas when he stuffed home a rebound opportunity.
The Devils may have scored while James Neal was in the box for cross-checking, but he made up for it by scoring a power-play goal of his own 15 seconds into the third period that cut New Jersey's lead to 3-1 and got the Penguins back in the game.
Neal is now tied with San Jose’s Patrick Marleau for the NHL lead with five power-play goals. Neal leads the Penguins with eight goals this season.
Watch the goal below:
BIG SCRAP = STRONG START
Rookie defenseman Robert Bortuzzo showed grit when he dropped the gloves with Ryan Carter off the game’s opening faceoff for his first NHL fight.
"I figured I could add to my game," Bortuzzo said. "We’re playing in front of a sold-out barn here that gets pretty excited when things get going. I thought that’d be a decent way to start the game. That’s kind of how it happened."
The two exchanged decent blows, but Bortuzzo emphatically won the scrap when he threw Carter down onto the ice. The crowd stood on its feet and roared as the two went at it, and Bortuzzo sparked his team to a strong start.
The Penguins controlled play for the majority of the first period, keeping the Devils rimmed in their own end with lengthy offensive zone shifts. New Jersey didn’t record a shot on goal until nearly halfway through the opening frame.
But the Devils are a frustrating team in that they like to hang back and patiently wait for their opportunity to strike. And they did 13:06 minutes into the period when Clarkson converted the Devils’ third shot of the game.
"It’s always tough against them," Vokoun said. "They play a tight system. It’s really not a game that’s fun for you. But still, we had our chances. We just didn’t capitalize and they did on theirs. The first goal I would like to have back. It’s tough for a goalie, you don’t really have any shots then there’s a 2-on-1. We just didn’t generate enough offense. They played a good road game and capitalized on their chances when they had them."
As Vokoun alluded to, the Penguins had their share of offensive zone time in this game. They created a lot of chances, which Hedberg was equal to. Granted, he did see a lot of the pucks as the Penguins had trouble creating traffic in front of him early on and had a lot of shots from far out. But the ones in close, the excellent scoring chances, he was able to stop.
The Devils are a team that's known for their trademark brand of patient, defense-first, system-focused hockey. But tonight their strategy for playing defense was by playing in the offensive zone.
"This team may be different than what’s traditionally talked about with the Devils," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "One thing that they did really well was they played in the offensive zone. We spent a lot of time playing defense. When you spend 30-40 seconds in the D zone, you have just enough energy to get off the ice. That’s really what they did well, especially in the latter half of the game.
"We come out in the third and get a power-play goal, and they did a good job of taking away opportunities for us to get things going by playing in the offensive zone."
Penguins forward Matt Cooke appeared in his 900th career NHL game Sunday. He’s played more NHL games than any other Penguin. Thursday marked his 317th game with Pittsburgh since signing with the team as a free agent prior to the 2008-09 campaign. He has 61 goals and 72 assists for 133 points in those games. Cooke also played 566 games with Vancouver and 17 contests with Washington at the end of the ’07-08 season. Cooke played his first NHL game with the Canucks on Oct. 14, 1998 against an Oilers team that had current Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin on their roster.
A hockey wunderkind who outpaces players at least two years his senior and wears the number of his birth year on the back of his jersey.
Meet Connor McDavid, a 16-year-old hockey prodigy who some scouts already project to be the first overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. McDavid was welcomed to CONSOL Energy Center to watch his idol Sidney Crosby and the Penguins take on the New Jersey Devils Sunday.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo