Wearing their vintage uniforms, the Devils posted an historic win in front of a sellout crowd Wednesday night at the Rock.
Jersey’s Team donned their original red and green jerseys for the first time in 18 years and struck for four straight goals en route to a 5-2 dismantling of the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. The triumph capped a perfect 6-0 record against the defending Stanley Cup champions, marking the Devils’ first-ever regular-season sweep of the team from the Steel City.
New Jersey was bolstered by the return of Paul Martin, who came back after missing 59 games with a left forearm fracture and scored his first goal since March 27, 2009. Patrik Elias added a shorthanded goal and an assist to lead the Devils into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh atop the Atlantic Division.
Zach Parise’s 33rd of the season chased Marc-Andre Fleury, who was beaten for four goals on 13 shots in a period and a half. Dainius Zubrus scored on a breakaway and Rob Niedermayer added an empty-netter with 1:13 to go in regulation. Brent Johnson relieved Fleury and made five saves.
New Jersey captured its fifth straight home win and has outscored opponents 22-10 during the streak.
Martin couldn’t have envisioned a goal – or a better performance – in his first game since Oct. 24. He intercepted a Bill Guerin pass at center ice and carried the puck for a perfect shot inside the left post at 18:18 of the second period. His was one of 22 goals the Devils scored against Pittsburgh this season, while only allowing five.
“That was just a bonus,” Martin said. “I was just being realistic and I just wanted to get through the game, eat some minutes, play solid and keep it simple. The opportunity just presented itself and I was able to make it happen. It felt good. It was just a little extra, but I definitely wasn’t dreaming about that or expecting that. I just wanted to make it through the game. That was my goal.”
Wednesday’s game was the first all year in which Jacques Lemaire had a fully healthy lineup. Martin’s recovery represented the last piece of the puzzle. He finished with 22 shifts in 18:05 of ice time.
“I was happy for him,” Lemaire said. “You could tell he wanted to do well. He was looking for the opportunity to move up the ice and do something. At that point, when he decided to go, there was a defenseman and he wanted to go around him, and he let that shot go. It was a good shot; a smart shot.”
On the first anniversary of his record-setting 552nd win, Martin Brodeur made 24 saves to capture his League-leading 39th victory. Brodeur is on the verge of his eighth 40-win season. No other netminder in history has more than three.
“We never started by saying, ‘We need to be good against these guys,’” Brodeur said of the Devils' dominance of Pittsburgh. “When you play top teams, you have to pay attention to details, and the level of respect was there all year long. We never felt that we were a lot better than these guys, we just competed really hard against them and we did good things.”
A charged-up, mostly green-clad crowd made for a raucous atmosphere at Prudential Center, not unlike the buzz of one year ago, when Brodeur and Elias each reached major milestones. Facing the Chicago Blackhawks last March 17, Brodeur surpassed Patrick Roy as the NHL’s all-time winningest goaltender, while Elias collected his 702nd point to become the Devils’ all-time leading scorer.
“They’re similar,” said Brodeur, comparing the two nights. “On a personal note, it was different for me, but I think St. Patty’s Day, the red and green jerseys, people excited in the building, the performance that we had – it made for a great night.”
Brodeur delivered a highlight reel stop with the Devils leading 4-1 early in the third, robbing Mark Eaton’s wraparound with a diving save at the goal line.
“I went down early, I thought he had nowhere to go, and he didn’t,” Brodeur said. “Next thing you know, he got behind the net and he wrapped it around so I just laid there. It was hard for him to raise (the puck), so I just laid my arm and my glove and stopped it on the goal line.”
Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz opened the scoring in the first period. Guerin threw a sharp-angle shot on net from the right circle, and the rebound kicked out into the slot, where Kunitz netted his 11th at 4:01.
The Devils capitalized on a series of Pittsburgh turnovers to take the lead.
Zubrus tied it after Elias intercepted a Kris Letang pass at center and sent him in alone on a breakaway. Zubrus deked to his forehand and stuffed his seventh of the year around Fleury’s right pad at 10:51.
New Jersey had two shorthanded breakaways on the Penguins’ first power play early in the second. Fleury made a glove save on Travis Zajac 18 seconds before Elias intercepted a pass at the Pittsburgh blueline and beat Fleury to his blocker at 3:09. Elias’ 13th of the season was his first shorthanded.
“I thought for the first 10 minutes we controlled the game,” said Elias, the game’s First Star. “After that we did a good job on the PK and 5-on-5. We recognized really well tonight when we could pressure them and when we could sit back and be a little more patient. We didn’t waste any energy that we didn’t have to. I thought the fans had a good time, we had a good time, and the jerseys looked awesome out there.”
A Devils 4-on-2 midway through the second ended with Zajac feeding a pass in front of the net to Parise, who jammed the puck over the line from his knees to make it 4-1 at 10:17. Parise added an assist on Niedermayer's goal for his third point in two games.
Ruslan Fedotenko scored his 10th by putting a shot through a tangle of legs from the right circle at 5:23 of the third.
Rod Pelley’s five-minute major for boarding Alex Goligoski put the Devils down a man for three minutes with 4:29 to go in regulation. The PK came to the rescue and finished a perfect 3-for-3 on the evening.
It's not certain if Martin will be in the lineup Thursday, when the Devils visit Toronto.
"We haven't decided that yet," Lemaire said. "We just talked about it briefly and we'll make the decision either on our way there or in the morning."
"I have no idea," said Martin. "I'd like to. It felt good, but we'll see (Thursday) how it feels, if it's sore, and what Jacques thinks."
• Zubrus sized up the series: "It's a good team, it's a good rivalry. There's always good games against them. They have skill players and to beat them you have to play well. We know that and guys get up for those games. It's a measuring stick because you're playing the Stanley Cup champs. Guys get up and play well."
Lemaire felt there could be a carryover in his team's confidence should the Devils and Penguins meet in the postseason.
"Playoffs is a different season and it's nice to have confidence during the year and beat a team," he said. "But playoffs, I always say it's a different season and you start from scratch. But our confidence, to me, would still dominate at that point."
• Parise finished with three goals, six assists for nine points in the series with Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists. Evgeni Malkin, who missed Wednesday's contest because of injury, did not have a point in four appearances.
• Pelley said he had no intention of hitting Goligoski from behind: "He turned right as I was going in there. I got two hands on his numbers. It's unfortunate I took the major. I'm definitely not trying to hit anyone from behind. I'm just trying to play honest. It's going to happen."
He added that the play happened quickly. He hit Goligoski in the corner as the Pens' defenseman skated back to retrieve the puck.
"It happened so quick there that it's kind of just a reaction. I was already committed to finishing my hit and kind of had my arms out. I just kind of followed through. Right as he turned, I kind of connected with his numbers and he went in pretty rough."
• The Devils have chased the starting goaltenders in their last three home games (Henrik Lundqvist, Tim Thomas, Marc-Andre Fleury).
• The red and green jerseys were worn for 800 regular-season and 40 playoff contests from the team’s inception in 1982 through the 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Devils have worn red, black, and white since 1992-93. Over 10 seasons, 138 players wore the red and green uniforms, led by Aaron Broten’s 581 appearances.
1 - 0 PIT
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD
3 - 1 NJD
4 - 1 NJD
4 - 2 NJD
5 - 2 NJD
Interference - Goalkeeper