"Guys are fighting for jobs, and while there may be less pressure for the veteran players, this isn't the way you think a last-place team would feel right now," veteran center Jason Spezza said. "We feel the pressure to win games, and I think a lot of guys feel the pressure to perform because there are open auditions going on for next year. It's a big opportunity to have this many guys up from the minor-league team."
One of those minor league call-ups, Erik Condra, made a case for himself when he scored his second goal of the game off a deflection with 2:13 remaining in the third period to give Ottawa a 2-1 victory against New Jersey, putting a crimp in the Devils' hopes for a miraculous playoff rally.
Goalie Craig Anderson, making his eighth straight start since his trade from Colorado on Feb. 18, was tremendous once again with 31 saves, including 14 in the second and 10 more in the third.
The loss was only the third in the last 25 games for New Jersey, which is trying to make the playoffs after being 27 points out of eighth place at the season's midway point. The Devils are 20-3-2 after going 10-29-2 in the first half. They remained eight points behind eighth-place Buffalo in the Eastern Conference; the Sabres lost 3-1 at Pittsburgh.
"It could be a costly loss, but we have to get back to the next one," Devils forward Brian Rolston said. "I don't think we're out of it, yet." The Devils travel to Atlanta on Friday before hosting the New York Islanders on Saturday.
With the victory, the Senators improved to 5-3-0 in the eight games since General Manager Bryan Murray acquired Anderson in a swap of goalies that sent Brian Elliott to Colorado.
On the game-winner, Spezza circled at the top of left circle before throwing the puck at Martin Brodeur. Condra got a piece of the puck and slid it just inside the post past Brodeur's pad for the second two-goal game of his career.
"I just came off the bench and Spezza kept cutting back and forth," Condra said. "I think he was waiting for me to get there and he threw it to the net, hoping someone would be there. I had my stick on the ice and it hit it and went in."
Ottawa coach Cory Clouston praised Spezza and his team.
"Jason won a couple of big faceoffs, and is proving to be a good two-way hockey player," he said. "When he decides to play smart defensively, he reads the play very well, and he anticipates. The odds have been stacked against us and we're using that as a motivational factor. We're getting good goaltending and it's permeating throughout the rest of the team. The effort has been outstanding."
Brodeur, who made 19 saves but lost for the first time in five starts, is 12-2-1 in his last 15 outings.
"It's extra special when you beat a guy who's the all-time shutout and wins leader so obviously that means a lot for a goalie when you go up against him and play well," Anderson said. "You got that extra jump in your step because he's great on the other side. You want to beat him."
Rolston, who generated a game-high five shots, felt Anderson was the difference in the game.
"I had a couple of good opportunities and just hit him with it," Rolston said. "But you have to give credit to the goalie. I thought he played well. I really like that kid. He's good and he's got a bright future … I think that was a great trade for Ottawa."
Patrik Elias scored his first goal in nine games 4:01 into the third to pull the Devils into a 1-1 tie. Rolston made the play when he reversed direction and skated into the right corner before threading the needle across the crease to Elias breaking to the net for his 15th of the season.
The Senators took a 1-0 lead at 4:45 of the second period when Condra slammed home his own rebound in the slot after taking a feed from Ryan Shannon. The goal came moments after the Devils had dodged a bullet when Brodeur blocked consecutive attempts by rookie Colin Greening while lying on the ice, snow-angel style.
"When I got back to the bench, Shannon said, 'You scored against one of the best goalies ever,' and he's right," Condra said. "There's so much excitement going through my head. It's unbelievable. You grow up watching a guy like that, dominate the League. The second one was lucky, but I'll still take it."
New Jersey had plenty of chances to tie the game or even take the lead when it was presented with three straight power plays, including a pair of two-man advantages, in a 4:33 span midway through the second. The first two-man edge for 16 seconds came with 10:38 left and the second for 1:12 with 9:50 remaining. The Senators yielded six shots on all three power plays, but just one on the second two-man disadvantage. An apparent goal by Jacob Josefson -- which would have been his first as a Devil -- was waived off by referee Frederick L'Ecuyer for a high stick.
"We have to be able to get a goal or two there and we didn't and I think the result is this loss," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "You got to make a play. You have to hit the right player with the puck on the 5-on-3. Not only one, but two 5-on-3's … come on. This is what is most frustrating from this game."
Anderson said his penalty-killers, who haven't allowed a power-play goal in eight straight games (27 for 27), was exceptional. The Senators also did a fine job of shutting down white-hot Ilya Kovalchuk, who entered the game with 10 goals and 19 points in his last 16 games. Kovalchuk was held to just one shot in a team-high 24:10 of ice time.
"Momentum-wise, we didn't allow them to get anything and took the wind out of their sails," he said. "If they get one there, it's a different game."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
|Henrik Tallinder Hooking against Jason Spezza|
|Erik Karlsson Hi-sticking against Brian Rolston|
|Zack Smith Hooking against Patrik Elias|
|Filip Kuba Holding against Mattias Tedenby|
|Mark Fayne Holding against Erik Condra|
|Jason Spezza Hooking against Brian Rolston|
|Brian Rolston Diving against Jason Spezza|