Brodeur came within 26 seconds of his eighth shutout of the season on Friday.
The Devils were done in by another late goal on Friday, suffering a disappointing defeat after an excellent start against one of the NHL’s best.
Chicago's Kris Versteeg scored with 26 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, and the Devils went on to drop their third in a row with a 2-1 shootout loss to the visiting Blackhawks.
Jonathan Toews had the lone goal in the shootout, a wrist shot underneath Martin Brodeur’s catching glove. Antti Niemi, who made 32 saves, stopped Jamie Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. Ilya Kovalchuk, the final shooter, missed wide with a backhander.
Langenbrunner, the first shooter, had the puck poked off his forehand. Parise followed Toews with a forehand deke, but Niemi answered with a right pad stop. Brodeur stopped Patrick Kane’s forehand with his left pad.
Kovalchuk’s 40th of the season at 5:49 of the first period was the game’s only goal until Versteeg tied it, 1-1, with Niemi pulled for the extra skater. Versteeg’s turnaround slapshot from the right circle deflected off Mike Mottau’s stick and slipped between Brodeur’s pads. Toews was positioned in front of Brodeur, but never got a stick on the puck.
"It definitely hit my stick, and then someone said it hit my skate, as well," Mottau said. "(Toews) gave me a little shove as the puck was coming. I was just trying to gain position, and it's a disappointing finish to the game. Marty played great, and it's unfortunate that a fluke goal like that had to go in."
Brodeur, who carried a shutout into the 59th minute of play, finished with 25 saves. Neither club took a penalty, marking the first penalty-free game in Devils history. The last NHL game without a penalty was on March 28, 2001, when Boston won, 3-0, at Toronto.
Brodeur had the capacity crowd of 17,625 on its feet with some tremendous saves. He protected 1-0 goal lead with a quick right pad save on Dustin Byfuglien’s one-timer with 6:32 to go in the first.
He was outstanding again in the second, robbing Dave Bolland’s slot one-timer at the one-minute mark. Following a Devils turnover, he made a strong shoulder stop on Kane’s wrister from between the circles at 12:44.
The Devils (44-26-7, 95 pts.) picked up a point to draw even with Pittsburgh atop the Atlantic Division. Five games remain for Jersey’s Team, which opens a three-game road trip Saturday night in Carolina.
"It's a tough loss, but, on the other hand, there's a lot of good things that we did during the game," said head coach Jacques Lemaire. "Let's face it, Chicago's a great offensive team. They have good power there, and their defensemen are very offensive, so they can score goals.
"Playing in a game with a one-goal lead, sometimes it's just not enough, because they can score. They need one lucky bounce and it'll go in. Even though Marty made some good saves at different times, that goal, they just sent it at the net and it hit the defenseman's skate and found its way in."
Late goals have impacted the Devils' last three losses on home ice. They allowed Chris Drury’s goal with 16.5 seconds left in regulation before losing, 4-3, in a shootout to the Rangers on March 25. On Tuesday, the Devils fell, 1-0, in overtime on Patrice Bergeron’s marker with 18.3 seconds remaining in the extra session.
"Any time you give up a lead late, especially within the last minute, it's discouraging," Mottau said. "One was a good play, bad positioning. This one was kind of a fluky bounce. But either way, you have to bear down and get pucks out and be stronger."
To Brodeur, Friday's blown lead came down to more than bad luck.
"It's three in a row now," said Brodeur. "Bad luck? Twice maybe. But now it's three games in our building that, with seconds left on the clock, we're letting go of points. Not that we were necessarily going to win against Boston in a shootout. We need to play better in these situations, that's the bottom line."
The Devils missed opportunities to clear the zone as time wound down.
"You have to know how to play when there's only a few seconds left," Lemaire said. "When you see that nobody can control the puck, if you do get that puck, it's got to go down (the ice). Even if it's an icing, it's going to calm things. You can't try to make plays."
Though the division is up for grabs with just over a week to go, the Devils say they aren't watching the scoreboard every night.
"We're not really worried about it game in, game out," said Mottau. "At the end of the season, if we're playing well we'll deserve to be on top. It's something that we need to focus on in this room, and not flip-flopping in the standings after each game. If we take care of our business in here, we'll be fine."
Patrik Elias carried behind the Chicago net to set up Kovalchuk’s shot from the slot that beat Niemi’s catching glove in the first. Kovalchuk became the first player to net 40-or-more goals in six straight seasons since 1993-94.
Both Luc Robitaille (eight straight) and Brett Hull (six) saw streaks of 40-goal campaigns snapped by the 1995 lockout. Kovalchuk has accounted for both Devils’ goals over their last three games.
Friday’s game marked the return of former Devil John Madden, who played his first game in New Jersey since signing with the Blackhawks as a free agent last summer. The checking specialist spent 10 seasons in a Devils uniform, and was instrumental in New Jersey’s championships in 2000 and 2003. The sellout crowd cheered when Madden was named in Chicago’s starting lineup.
New Jersey dominated the Central Division-leading Blackhawks out of the gate, recording the first six shots of the game. At one point, the Devils were outshooting the visitors, 10-1.
"I thought we skated well with them, we played aggressive right from the start of the game," Lemaire said. "We had a little time where we stopped doing it, and it showed right away. They started to get control, but we came back quick. I felt all the guys played pretty good."
But after 20 minutes, they had only Kovalchuk’s goal to show for a one-sided period. The Blackhawks entered the game with the third-best offense in the NHL at 3.19 goals per game, and have been been blanked only twice this season. They were last shut out on Nov. 27.
NJD NOTES The Devils had the best chances of overtime and outshot Chicago, 3-1. With 3:01 left, Brian Rolston threw a puck on net from just inside the blue line, and Dean McAmmond narrowly missed popping the rebound over Niemi's left pad on the backhand.
• Chicago took both games of the season series. The Devils lost, 5-1, at United Center on New Year's Eve. … Blackhawks won in New Jersey for the first time since Dec. 30, 1997. The Devils had beaten Chicago in seven straight Garden State meetings, including last March 17, when Brodeur broke the NHL wins record.
• Brodeur was caught off-guard by the Devils' decision to go first in the shootout. New Jersey has lost its last four shootouts to slip to 6-5 on the year.
"Don't ask me," he said. "I was as surprised as you guys. I think it's the first time when we have a decision to pick that (the visitors) didn't go first. I was taking my time. Then I heard Lipper (Langenbrunner) just go."
Said Lemaire: "Because we haven't had any luck going second, so, 'Let's try to change it.'"
• Madden had two shots in the game, but Brodeur said he didn't have any run-ins with the former Devil during the game.
"Nothing," Brodeur said with a laugh. "Not even a 'Hi,' nothing in warmups. Nothing."
• Rolston had the wind knocked out of him in the first period when his hit on Versteeg resulted in Versteeg's skate coming up and hitting him in the stomach.
"He kicked me right in the stomach," Rolston said. "It actually knocked my wind out. I'm just glad it was just the heel of his skate and it didn't cut me there. I hit him from behind and his skate came up."
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