Devils celebrate Travis Zajac's goal that gave them a 2-0 lead in the second.
The Devils let a third-period lead slip away for the second straight game, only this time, they couldn’t script a happy ending.
Leading, 2-1, late in Sunday’s contest against the visiting Los Angeles Kings, the Devils gave up two goals in the final 1:46 of regulation and wound up on the short end of a 3-2 final.
Drew Doughty’s power-play goal with 27.3 seconds to go in the third period broke a 2-2 tie and lifted the Kings to their sixth straight victory. Los Angeles has won eight of nine.
Andy Greene’s defensive zone trip on Anze Kopitar with a minute left in the game proved costly. On the ensuing power play, Doughty put a slapshot through traffic for his 11th of the season.
Wayne Simmonds’ tying goal at 18:14 – a sharp-angle backhander from the bottom of the left circle that sneaked shortside through Martin Brodeur – came just 16 seconds after the Devils’ power play failed to cash in on Ryan Smyth’s second straight hooking penalty in the third.
New Jersey (36-17-2) blew a 4-2 third-period lead at home against Toronto on Friday, but secured a 5-4 victory on Travis Zajac’s winner in overtime. Zajac scored again versus the Kings, as did Johnny Oduya, who snapped a 26-game goal drought. In the end, time ran out for the Devils, who have dropped seven of 10.
“When you do well, you do good things,” said Brodeur, who made his 33rd straight start and posted 19 saves. “When you’re not doing as well, it seems bad bounces happen, for whatever reason.”
Brodeur saw Simmonds take the shot that eventually tied the game, though he lost the puck in traffic. He was screened on Doughty's goal, which capped three unanswered scores by the Kings.
"When it came close to me, I was expecting it to hit Smyth in front of me," Brodeur said of the Kings' second tally. "It just kind of hit the side of my (right) leg."
Greene said the Devils need to do a better job of handling hungry teams late in games.
"I don't know if we're just sitting back too much or what the problem is," he said. "But we have to be mentally ready. You know they're going to come with everything there in the last four or five minutes, and you have to be ready for it."
Pittsburgh’s shootout win over Detroit trimmed the Devils’ Atlantic Division lead to three points. Jersey’s Team now prepares for a home-and-home against the Maple Leafs beginning Tuesday in Toronto and ending Friday at the Rock.
"For 55 minutes, we played pretty well tonight," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "But we didn't put that next goal in to put them away. It came back to bite us."
Oduya opened the scoring in the first period with his second of the season. Oduya’s centering feed from the left wall headed toward the slot for Brian Rolston, deflecting off the right skate of Kings defenseman Jack Johnson and into the cage at 4:45. Jonathan Quick finished with 26 saves for Los Angeles.
Rolston, who had just served a tripping minor, came out of the box to pick up the secondary helper on Oduya’s tally. The Swedish blueliner last scored on Dec. 5 against Detroit in his first game back after missing 15 with a lower body injury.
The Devils killed a power play, then misfired on a man advantage in the first, but did not allow a shot on goal for the first 13:53 of the game.
Zajac’s 16th made it 2-0 5:54 into the second. The Three-Z line with Zajac, Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus converted a three-on-two rush, with Zubrus passing cross-ice for Zajac’s blast from the right dot.
For Zajac, it was his fifth point in two games after potting a goal and three assists against the Leafs on Friday. Parise added two assists Sunday. In two games together, their trio with Zubrus has combined for 14 points (5g-9a).
The Kings broke through in the final minute of the middle frame, when Michal Handzus cut the Los Angeles deficit in half.
Alexander Frolov pressured Mike Mottau into a turnover behind the Devils cage. Scott Parse got to the loose puck and put a centering feed off Rob Niedermayer. On his second effort, Parse found Handzus cruising through the crease for a tap-in to make it 2-1 with 28.7 seconds to go in the period.
Mottau thought he heard a teammate calling for the puck on the play.
"I thought it was our center – their guy called for the puck and I fell for it," Mottau said. "They called for the puck several times and I thought it was our center with low support."
Failing to regain a two-goal lead left the Devils with no margin for error in the third.
"We've done a pretty good job of closing out games," Langenbrunner said. "But you play with fire too many times by not getting that two-goal lead again, you're going to get burned once in a while. It was a tough play on the (tying goal), then you take a penalty late – their power play capitalized and ours didn't."
New Jersey's penalty kill had two prime scoring chances during Mottau’s holding minor in the opening three minutes of the third. Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo had a pair of two-on-one rushes, the second of which ended with Niedermayer nearly pushing a loose puck into the open left side behind Quick.
Zubrus was robbed by Quick on New Jersey’s second power play of the night. He crashed the net for a loose puck, but Quick scooped up Zubrus’ jam attempt at 11:55.
Oduya notched his second of the season to snap a 26-game goal drought.
Head coach Jacques Lemaire thought it was a game of missed opportunities. The power play with less than five minutes to go might have been at the top of the list.
"We still had good chances that we could put the game away," he said. "But their goalie was good; he made some good saves. We could have been a little better on certain plays there, but we had our chances."
Still, he felt his Devils had largely kept the Kings in check.
"We didn't give them a lot in the third," he said. "Take the power play out, which is one scoring chance on the goal they had. They had two chances in the rest of the period, which is not a lot. It's not that we played really badly. We figure they had maybe six, seven chances the whole game. I thought we played decent defensively."
Asked what he planned to tell the players to help them recover, Lemaire sounded as though he still needed to figure out how the game got away.
"I have to talk to myself first," he said. "That's a big loss that I still didn't digest. We'll see (Monday)."
• As productive as the Parise-Zajac-Zubrus line has been, its days are numbered. Lemaire said he expects to move Zubrus back to center to avoid overusing Niedermayer, who had two shots and a hit in 15:06 of ice time.
"I don't think you'll see (Zubrus) there next game," the coach said. "I need him at center. Not that he's not doing a good job there. He's doing a great job. I like the way he plays. I need him at center."
Of the 35-year-old Niedermayer, Lemaire said: "I use him too much. He'll be 60 years old at the end of the season. I have to slow down."
• Brodeur’s 33 consecutive starts marked the third-longest streak of his 17-year career. He has appeared in 40 straight games overall, and became just the second goaltender in NHL history to play in 15-or-more games in consecutive months. Terry Sawchuk is the only other goaltender to do so (December-January 1954-55).
• Greene didn't believe there was any carryover from the blown lead against the Leafs.
"You block that stuff out," he said. "You think about it for a little bit, learn from it and let it go. You can't sit there and dwell on things."
• Niclas Bergfors returned to the lineup after he was a healthy scratch for Friday’s game. He skated on the fourth line with Vladimir Zharkov and Rod Pelley and saw nine shifts for 8:54 of ice time.