The Penguins headed into Newark knowing that they hadn’t beaten the Devils in five previous attempts this season. They also realized that tonight’s sixth and final game of their season series was probably the most important, as the Devils were only two points behind them in the Atlantic Division standings. However, when the final buzzer sounded, the Devils had made up those two points and still had an all important game in hand which could prove to be the difference coming down the stretch.
The Penguins came out of the gates strong and looked like the better team for the first 10 minutes of the game. They were skating hard, making skate to skate passes and shooting the puck from all over the ice. That aggressive style seemed to have the Devils on their heels, which set the stage for the birds to get on the board first.
Bill Guerin threw a shot on Marty Brodeur from a sharp angle. Brodeur kicked the puck out into the slot where a streaking Chris Kunitz found the rebound and put it in behind the Devils goaltender, staking his team to a 1-0 lead. The goal gave the Penguins all of the momentum.
Unfortunately, that all changed at the 10:51 mark of the first period when Dainius Zubrus scored the equalizer on an amazing individual effort. He came in on a breakaway, made a wonderful backhand forehand move that had Marc Andre Fleury on his back and fired the puck past the fallen Penguins’ goaltender. Zubrus’s effort grabbed hold of the momentum for the Devils and they never relinquished it.
From that point on the Devils created one Penguins turnover after another and were in full control. They were forcing the birds into numerous bad decisions, which came in the form of east/west passes at the blue line that the Devils were able to pounce on. Almost every time the Penguins made one of those ill timed passes, the Devils were take it the other way on an odd man break or breakaway. Eventually it got to be too much for Fleury, who surrendered 4 goals on 13 shots before getting the hook.
If the Penguins normally win with a strong team effort, this loss was secured with that same kind of effort. Almost every player on the ice committed a turnover in the game. They might not have all ended up in the net, but they certainly made it hard to get on the offensive. It isn’t a reach to say that this was by far the worst effort against the Devils of the season.
Which really says something considering that the boys in black and Vegas gold had already dropped five games to Jersey.
The Devils on the other hand, looked dominant for stretches of this game. Which bodes well for their line-up which was playing with each of its players healthy for the first time in months. Paul Martin made his long awaited return, scored a goal and showed his coaches and teammates that he is indeed ready to contribute the rest of the way.
The Penguins had better hope that someone else finds a way to knock off this Devils team in the playoffs, as they have done nothing to make me believe that they can handle then in a seven game series.
The Penguins were officially credited with only three giveaways in the game. That is absolutely mind blowing considering that each Devils goal came off of a turnover. The Penguins giveaway total in this game was probably closer to 10.
The Devils were credited with four takeaways.
Sidney Crosby skated a game high 23:25 on 25 shifts. He managed to finish at -1, which is saying something in a 5-2 loss.
Tyler Kennedy, who was recently scratched in back to back games, finished the evening with a team high -3.
Jordan Staal was of only four Penguins players to finish even in the game. He joins Alex Goligoski, Brooks Orpik and Craig Adams. Staal also won 62% of his draws on the night.
Patrick Elias finished the night with two points (1G-1A) and a +3.
Paul Martin skated 18:05 in his first game back. He looked fresh and healthy, which doesn’t bode well for teams that have to play New Jersey the rest of the way.
More in the morning…