The Devils couldn’t have asked for a better start with their leading scorer out of the lineup.
Missing Zach Parise in Wednesday’s meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. But Simon Gagne’s goal with 1:33 left in overtime capped three unanswered tallies for the Flyers, who topped the Devils, 3-2, to sweep the home-and-home series.
Parise took pre-game warmups, but left the ice early because of an upper body injury. It was the first game he has missed this season. He has appeared in all but three games during his five NHL seasons.
Gagne had three cracks at the winning goal. He had a wraparound attempt blocked by a sliding Andy Greene, then missed the net on a one-timer set up by Kimmo Timmonen from behind the Devils’ net. On the clincher, Gagne curled around the right circle and slipped between Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk. He snapped the puck into the top right corner of the net through Jeff Carter's screen.
“I saw it at the end,” said Martin Brodeur, who made 12 saves. “I saw Simon came in and I saw him shoot. Carter was right in front of me, and after that, it hit my (left) shoulder. I got a little piece of it.”
Jacques Lemaire said the deciding goal game down to a long shift for his club.
“Tonight we found a way to lose,” said the coach. “It’s that simple. We talk, I don’t know how many times, about having short shifts. In the room, before the games, in practices, behind the bench, and we still have long shifts.”
He continued: “When you’re tired, what do you do? You can’t skate, you can’t chase anybody. You just stand. That’s what we did. It’s too bad because we were fine, we were OK even though it wasn’t one of our best games. At least, to get a chance to win in a shootout or something like that. Or maybe us getting a goal, last minute.”
Travis Zajac and Rob Niedermayer scored for the Devils (36-20-3), who are winless in three straight (0-2-1) and have dropped 11 of their last 15 (4-9-2). Arron Asham and Carter answered for Philadelphia, which has taken four of five against Jersey's Team.
“You never want to give up a lead,” Zajac said. “But 2-2 going into the third, we felt we were playing pretty well. We made the point after the second period of going out in the third and not worrying about the score, not worrying about losing, just going out and having a good period. We did. We controlled the play in the third. We made some plays, we kept the puck in, we kept the pressure on them. We’ve got to find a way to win.”
The Devils lost in overtime for the first time this season (2-1), and lead Pittsburgh by one point in the Atlantic Division race. The Penguins beat the Islanders, 3-1, on Wednesday.
With the score tied after 40 minutes, the Devils misfired on a 25-second five-on-three midway through the third. They finished 0-for-3 on Wednesday have connected four times on their last 51 power-play opportunities.
“We had a few good chances, but most of the time we had a tough time just to set up in their zone,” Elias said.
Brodeur pointed out that the team played well in the opening and final frames. New Jersey outshot the Flyers, 7-1, in the third period.
“We had two really good periods, really solid periods,” he said. “When you’re not going to score many goals and you’re going to keep teams around, that’s what’s going to happen. Power play, we had a little bit of a five-on-three, didn’t win the faceoff. That was done, and you used your timeout because of it. When you’re squeezing it a bit, things like that happen to you.”
Ilya Kovalchuk took five shots on Michael Leighton and has registered 22 shots in his last three games. He is still looking for his first tally as a Devil, but Lemaire said getting the new power-play personnel in sync will take some time.
“We practiced it yesterday for a half an hour so everyone gets on the same page,” he said. “We get in the game, we’re trying different stuff. But we’re in an adjustment right now with the guys that are on. They do have to adjust to each other.”
Defenseman Bryce Salvador suffered an upper body injury in the first period and did not return. Lemaire didn’t believe it was serious. New Jersey hosts Nashville on Friday then visits Carolina on Saturday for their final game before the two-week Olympic break.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Lemaire said.
Zajac notched his 18th of the season just 45 seconds into the contest, snapping a wrister from the top of the left circle that squirted between Leighton’s pads.
Niedermayer’s seventh of the year snapped a 12-game goal drought. His centering feed from the side of the net was intended for Jay Pandolfo but deflected off Leighton, then Timmonen and into the net at 8:01 of the first.
A worker cleared the sidewalk in preparation for the game.
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Asham, the former Devil, cut the Flyers deficit to 2-1 just 32 seconds later. He snapped a shot from the right circle that changed direction off of Greene and under Brodeur’s outstretched arm at 8:33.
“A bad bounce,” Brodeur said. “It’s been three, four games in a row now that shots are missing the net by a couple feet and it comes back and it’s in the net. Some unfortunate bounces.”
The Flyers came inches from tying it on the power play late in the first. Mike Richards hit the left post with a wrister from the right circle with 6:00 to go. Later, Danny Briere’s wrist shot from the left side caromed off traffic and sat in front for Scott Hartnell, who pushed it toward the open right side with 5:15 left. Brodeur dove across to snag it at the line with his catching glove. A lengthy video review upheld the on-ice call of no goal.
Carter tied it up in the second period. Briere gained the Devils’ blue line and slipped the puck under Pandolfo’s stick to a breaking Carter at the left circle. He snapped his 24th of the year by Brodeur’s glove to make it 2-2 at 13:47.
An announced crowd of 5,508 braved the snowstorm that dumped up to a foot or more of snow on the tri-state area on Wednesday.
• Zajac found out just after warmups that linemate Zach Parise would miss the game. “It’s tough losing a guy like that, a guy who can change a game. But other guys have to step up and fill the role,” he said.
Zajac saw improvements Wednesday from Monday’s 3-2 loss at Philadelphia.
“I thought we played a better game,” said the Devils’ centerman. “I thought we managed the puck better. We made some better some plays with the puck and made it tougher on them to come out of the zone. The game before it was pretty easy for them. They had a lot of three-on-twos and made a lot of plays. Today, we didn’t give them a lot of chances, I don’t think.”
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