New Jersey Devils Sweep the Season Series Against Pittsburgh Penguins with 5-2 Win

The end of the game may have had a few people at the Rock leave their seats early.  But the sound of the crowd was so substantial, they probably could have been heard throughout the city of Newark. They were all saying one thing:

"YOU CAN'T BEAT US"

What's more, they were absolutely right.

Once again the New Jersey Devils prevailed over the Pittsburgh Penguins.  In the sixth and final contest between these two teams, the Devils won 5-2.  The total of the series was impressive. A total score of 22-5 in favor of New Jersey. No power play goals conceded to Pittsburgh.  Sidney Crosby (who was a non-factor tonight) and Evgeni Malkin (who did not play tonight) were rendered ineffective.  

Was history made other than that the Devils played in a third uniform within a season for the first time in team history? Not really.  Yet, tonight was momentous because of the opponent, because of the retro look spiking interest, and most of all, because the Devils were entirely healthy for the first time all season.  Paul Martin returned to the blueline and proved those worried about his condition like myself completely wrong.  Martin's arm is fine.  He played 18:05 tonight and scored his first goal of the season (and in a long, long time) on a fantastic individual effort late in the first period.  He didn't just return and have a decent game, he played very well.

I don't think Martin was the best player on the ice tonight, but his return does warrant special noting.  For the game's official stats, here is the official NHL.com recap.  If you want the Pittsburgh perspective on their sixth loss to New Jersey, then please go to PensBurgh later.  Please don't be jerks or sore winners if you do go there; please be nice.  For additional thoughts about tonight's game, please read on after the jump.

Before continuing, here are the video highlights from tonight's game from NHL.com:

For the most part the Devils as a whole did very well.  Was it a perfect, all-around effort? No.  Let's talk about that first.  For starters, the first 7 to 9 minutes of the game, the Devils looked lethargic and Pittsburgh were the better team.  The Penguins had possession, moved the puck well, and cashed in on a long rebound by Chris Kunitz..  The Devils faded offensively in the third period and didn't keep Pittsburgh honest enough as I'd like.   Really, only 4 shots? Lemaire, you need to instruct this team to push a little back in the third instead of playing safe hockey.  Especially considering the Devils nearly got a fifth goal shortly after Brent Johnson entered the game for Marc-Andre Fleury. I'm not asking for ultra-aggressive attacking, just some more puck control on offense and a few more shots on net.

Also, the Devils got a power play in the third period and did nothing with it.  Literally, nothing. The five-forward unit was repelled over and over. The third line got a PP shift just because the five-forward unit was doing nothing and the Devils were already leading.  I know it wasn't a must-score power play.  I know it killed 2 minutes off the clock.  But seriously: no shots on net.  Just one attempted shot right at the end that missed.  A better effort would have given the group confidence, yet it is still in a mire of sorts.

I'd also like to make a quick point about the shove from behind on Alex Goligoski. It was dangerous and stupid; completely worthy of both the major and a possible suspension.  A shove isn't even a check, so don't even tell me he was "finishing" anything.  I understand according to this Chere article that Lemaire's opinion of Pelley's night wasn't dampered by it.  Well, it was to me, he was otherwise having a good game, a few fits, gave some good energy, but he crossed the line there. It's great that Goligoski was OK.  That garbage needs to leave the game post-haste.

Yet, despite those issues, I still think the Devils had a good game against Pittsburgh.  Let me be the first to congratulate the PK units.  The penalty killing tonight was fantastic.  Two shorthanded breakaways, the first one forced Fleury to make a huge save on Travis Zajac, and the second had Patrik Elias freeze him for the goal.  Granted, Pittsburgh's power play was worse than New Jersey's tonight.  Take your pick which of these two reasons stuck out more.  A) The Penguins giving up two shorthanded breakaways on the same power play - the second one leading to Patrik Elias freezing Fleury for the eventual game winning goal.   B) The fact that Pittsburgh got 3 power plays totaling 7 minutes (Kris Letang decided to stick up for Goligoski after Pelley's shove - understandable - and took 2 minutes off the Pelley major with a roughing call.) and came up with only three shots on net.  Keep in mind for reason B that the Devils got two shots on net shorthanded.  Regardless, a bad Pittsburgh PP was preyed upon by smart penalty killing by the Devils.  They knew exactly when to step up to make a play, when to carry it out, and when to just fire it out of the zone.  Great job.

Of course, the PK literally got a few timely saves from Martin Brodeur.   Brodeur also had a solid game.  Pittsburgh's shooting wasn't very good tonight. Sure, they outshot the Devils 26-19 but they also got blocked more often (15-6), and missed the net more often (12-6).  That's just poor efficiency  They had a few loose pucks right in front that they just fired right into Brodeur.  Their shooting at times was like in Monday's Boston game: quantity but not at all quality.  A lot of credit goes to the defense for not conceding many odd man rushes or not letting so many rebounds get to Pittsburgh sticks.  But Brodeur came through on some big saves, most notably denying  Kris Letang of a rebound in the first period and Mark Eaton of a wrap around attempt early in the third. Of the goals against, I felt he could have had the Kunitz shot; he had enough time to turn to face him.  I didn't think he had a chance on Ruslan Fedotenko's shot if only because there were two Penguins right in front of him on the screen.   Still, he had a good night.

In contrast, Fleury did not have a good night.  4 goals on 13 shots; and he didn't look good on three of them. He fell down allowing Dainius Zubrus to turn him into a highlight for the Devils' first goal. While shorthanded breakaways aren't his fault alone; after robbing Zajac of the first one, he just froze on Elias' breakaway.  Then he just flopped literally out of position and the only reason why Parise's initial shot didn't go in was because of Mark Eaton's leg - which just meant Parise took a second whack at it for the goal.  Bad night for a talented goaltender. Brent Johnson looked decent, I just wished the Devils challenged him more beyond the Pittsburgh defense melting down against the Elias line after the goalie change (a shift where I'm pretty sure half the Rock thought they scored on).

As noted, the defense did have a good game. Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador looked solid, combining for 7 of the Devils' 15 blocks tonight.  Martin looked good next to Martin Skoula who now has an assist streak of two games.  Colin White was fantastic in his own end tonight, in my view.  Sidney Crosby played 23:35 tonight and yet only got 2 shots on goal, a big reason why was that White (among other Devils) played him perfectly.  White made Penguins players eat their lunch going forward.  You normally want a defensive defenseman to just be solid and not make too much noise, kind of like Mike Mottau tonight (this is not a knock on him, he did well).  But White's defensive play was very noticeable in a very positive way tonight.  In general, the unit played well despite the shot disparity; I feel they were a big reason why Pittsburgh struggled to get quality shots and chances like the Devils did on offense.

In my opinion, despite some shortcomings on the box score, several of the Devils' forwards had a good game.  Whereas the only Pens who looked good going forward were their most prolific shooters - Chris Kunitz and Ruslan Fedotenko, each with 4 shots, and each with a goal - the Devils forwards were threatening despite not shooting as much. 

Patrik Elias' game was great tonight, fully deserving of the game's first star. He was instrumental in setting up Dainius Zubrus' breakaway goal as well as scoring his own sweet goal.  Sure, he only had one shot on net and he was bad at the faceoff dot going 1-for-9. You can't argue the results, his forechecking, and that he was the straw that stirred the drink when the Devils were rolling.

Likewise, Travis Zajac may have only had 3 shots on net, but he made that first shorthanded breakaway happen, he set up Zach Parise for his goal that chased Fleury, and was good on faceoffs by winning 8-for-12.   Parise himself was the same way: not a lot of shots, but he banged in his goal past Mark Eaton right in front and set up the game-icing empty net goal for Rob Niedermayer.  Also, while Ilya Kovalchuk, Jamie Langenbrunner, and David Clarkson didn't score any points, I felt they all played important roles in keeping the Devils play hard against Pittsburgh. They looked good for the most part.  What I noted the most was that Kovalchuk rarely tried to take the puck up ice himself on even strength - maybe Lemaire talked to him after the Boston game to look for his linemates? 

The only question I have is about Brian Rolston.  Per the stats, he only played 13 shifts for 8:45.  I know he normally doesn't get big minutes, but this is small for him.  Was he hurt? Did he have an extended equipment issue? I didn't think he was playing that poorly at all.  The penalty he took wasn't a good call (Pittsburgh, let's just say, got away with some moves tonight) - not his fault; and he did get two shifts in the third period. But was he benched for a period of time?   Was he just moved to the fourth line for match-up purposes?  Anyone?

Devils fans brought the thunder at the Rock tonight and the atmosphere was great.  They stuck it to Sidney Crosby with boos and "CROSBY SUCKS!" chants - which, truth be told, he wasn't very good tonight.  The cheers for the Devils were even louder.  The ending chant of "YOU CAN'T BEAT US!" was perfect as it came right after the big kill and Niedermayer's empty net goal. 

Personally, I'm not a fan of the retro look, but the players got a kick out of it (per Tom Gulitti, Brodeur wouldn't mind doing it again) and so did many of the fans. Depending on the business it made, it might be back. I'm glad that the return of Paul Martin was not only good but garnering some attention like this post game post from Gulitti calling it a "storybook" return.   I don't know if I'd go that far; but I am very  happy to be proven wrong about my concerns about Martin's return all the same.  What every Devils fan can completely agree upon was that tonight's win just feels so good. The Devils are definitely back in the fight for the Atlantic Division and sent a message to the rest of the league that news of the team's demise was premature.  The Devils just swept the defending Stanley Cup champions 6-0.

But we can delight in the victory. The Devils need to get back to work with a trip up to Toronto for a game tomorrow. The Devils didn't look so good the last time they went on the road after beating Pittsburgh; hopefully we will see a better result on Thursday against the Maple Leafs.

Thanks for reading and commenting in the GameThread.  A preview for tomorrow's game will be forthcoming (hopefully) shortly. Please leave all your thoughts, complaints, criticisms, corrections, and other feelings about tonight's game in the comments.

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