Niclas Bergfors and Jamie Langenbrunner each had a goal and Martin Brodeur stopped all 32 shots he saw for his second straight shutout of the Penguins. The Devils' 2-0 victory moved them four points ahead of their closest competitor in the Atlantic Division.
Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson was outstanding, stopping 31 of 32 shots and denying several strong New Jersey attempts to keep it a one-goal game for most of the contest.
Not only have the Devils won all four meetings this season against the defending Stanley Cup champions, but they've allowed just two goals in those four games -- the first three of which came in Pittsburgh. Brodeur has stopped 124 of 126 shots in the four games, and the Penguins haven't scored on Brodeur in a combined 168:28.
"You're at a stage where we're measuring ourselves with the top teams," Brodeur said after extending his own NHL record with his 105th career shutout. "When you play them, you want to get a win. … It's another matchup here that was of big importance for our hockey club to see where we're at (and) we responded real well."
Leading that charge were the Devils' top two defense pairings -- Andy Greene and Johnny Oduya, and Colin White and Mike Mottau. Each played well over 20 minutes, finished a combined plus-4 and none committed a penalty.
"The four guys, they played a lot and they played great," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "A game like this, if you win, these guys get a lot of credit for what they did."
"They're a good hockey club," Brodeur said of the Penguins. "Every time you're able to shut down some of the key players on the other side, especially the likes of Crosby and Malkin, guys are doing their jobs in a good way. We've done a great job on both these guys so far in the series we've played them."
The win was the Devils' sixth in their last seven games, while the Penguins lost their third straight.
Despite the defeat, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was pleased with how his team played.
"Their goaltender played very well," he said. "I thought our team played a pretty good game. That had a feel and the look of a playoff game in terms of how it was played. It was tough to get a quality scoring chance at both ends of the rink. We can do a better job of trying to get those second chances, we passed up some shooting opportunities, (but) that was a pretty good hockey game from both teams."
Bergfors put the Devils ahead to stay just 1:48 into the game. Travis Zajac's strong forecheck on Pens defenseman Mark Eaton jarred the puck loose behind the Pittsburgh net. Bergfors pounced on the loose puck and spun into the right corner. His shot from a sharp angle eluded Johnson for Bergfors' 13th of the season -- second among all rookies, behind the Islanders' John Tavares with 16.
The Penguins had their chances, but Brodeur was equal to all of them. In the first period he denied Matt Cooke's backhander from in-close, then stopped Jordan Staal on two shots at the rebound. In the second, Tyler Kennedy was open at the left post, but Brodeur tipped his shot and the puck popped in the air and flew high over the crease; later in the period, Malkin hit the post. Halfway through the third, Crosby made a great move to get around a Devils defender and get off a backhand attempt that Brodeur gloved with a sweeping save.
"The intensity was like a playoff game," Brodeur said. "Guys were going to the net, lot of good scoring chances on both sides, good saves from both goalies. It was a fun game to be part of today."
The Penguins got one final chance when Zajac was penalized for holding Malkin with 1:26 left, but they got just one shot on goal, and before giving up Langenbrunner's empty-net shorthanded goal. Malkin fanned on a shot attempt, and the puck rolled to Rob Niedermayer, who fed Langenbrunner for an easy breakaway score, his ninth of the season.
The Devils might seem to hold an edge in the standings and in the minds of the Penguins, but don't expect to New Jersey to rely on that the next time these teams meet.
"It's a fine line," Brodeur said. "You could be there (in their head). But one bounce in a game could really flip-flop the confidence they have. We respect them. I think that's the reason why we've been successful. We don't take anything for granted. We know that if we put our guards down against these guys they'll take care of us."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com
|Niclas Bergfors (13) ASST: Travis Zajac (20), Andy Greene (18)|
1 - 0 NJD
|SHG - EN - Jamie Langenbrunner (9) ASST: Rob Niedermayer (8)|
2 - 0 NJD
|Max Talbot Elbowing against Dean McAmmond|
|Mike Rupp Roughing against Brian Rolston|
|Brian Rolston Roughing against Mike Rupp|
|Matt Cooke Slashing against Zach Parise|
|Chris Kunitz Slashing against Zach Parise|
|Sidney Crosby Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Travis Zajac Holding against Evgeni Malkin|