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Devils finish 2011 strong with 3-1 win

Saturday, 12.31.2011 / 6:42 PM

The New Jersey Devils closed out 2011 in impressive fashion Saturday afternoon.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a penalty shot in the first period and added an assist on David Clarkson's power-play goal four minutes later, leading the Devils to a 3-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prudential Center.

Devils captain Zach Parise scored an empty-net goal with 49.5 seconds left as New Jersey ended a four-game winless skid against Pittsburgh and won for the ninth time in 12 games overall. Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias each had assists on Parise's 13th goal of the season, giving both players two assists for the game.

Martin Brodeur made 29 saves -- including an improbable glove stop on Matt Cooke with four minutes left. It was his 11th win of the season, third straight and his record 636th victory of his career. It was also his 43rd win in 75 games against Pittsburgh.

"I just wanted to make some good saves early on," Brodeur said. "I think we all know these guys have a lot of firepower. I thought we played an excellent game. We've just got to keep it up. It's a growing process."

The Penguins, meanwhile, lost their second straight game after a four-game win streak. Chris Kunitz scored a third-period goal for the Penguins. Marc Andre-Fleury made 18 saves in goal for Pittsburgh.

"Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding, really outstanding," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "After the penalty-shot goal, he made a save on Parise shorthanded. Unfortunately, they got the 5-on-3 off the post. There were a number of other big saves and two in the third to keep it a one-goal game and give us a chance."

The Devils were awarded a penalty shot with five minutes left in the first period after a scramble in front.

Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson first fired a shot that hit the right post and Elias tried to poke home the rebound, but Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik fell on the loose puck in the crease, awarding a penalty shot to the Devils.

Kovalchuk took the puck in on Fleury and went straight on with a wrist shot that went through Fleury's pads for the 1-0 lead. It was Kovalchuk's 12th goal of the season and the second time he converted on a penalty shot in three attempts in his career.

"It was a big goal for me and it was a big goal for us," Kovalchuk said.

Soon after the Devils scored, Dainius Zubrus was called for elbowing and Pittsburgh had several chances in that power-play sequence. But Brodeur came up big, making three saves, two on Evgeni Malkin from point-blank range.

The Devils then capitalized on a 5-on-3, with Arron Asham serving a double minor for high sticking and unsportsmanlike conduct and Jordan Staal off for slashing. With 23 seconds left before the first intermission, Kovalchuk fired a shot that Fleury saved, then Elias hit the post with the rebound. The puck danced behind Fleury on the goal line, but an alert Clarkson pushed it in for his 13th goal of the season. Elias and Kovalchuk were credited with assists on the play that gave the Devils a 2-0 lead.

Tyler Kennedy had the best scoring chance in the second period, when the Penguins center skated in on Brodeur on a breakaway. But Brodeur stopped Kennedy with a diving kick save with 8:03 remaining. The Penguins had the better of the action in the second period, but Brodeur all 12 shots he faced.

"We were pretty happy with all three periods when we stayed out of the box," Orpik said. "We were happy with the way we played 5-on-5. The penalties gave them momentum and spotted them a two-goal lead. It's tough to come back."

With Mark Fayne in the penalty box for hooking, Matt Niskanen purposely shot the puck from the point off the back boards. An alert Kunitz then slid the backhanded rebound past Brodeur for the goal at 9:25 that made it 2-1. It was Kunitz's 13th goal of the season.

Brodeur came up big toward the end for the Devils, including an amazing stop of a point-blank attempt by Cooke with four minutes left.

"I thought he was great," Parise said of Brodeur. "He really made some big saves that we needed. He was definitely on top of it tonight. Some huge saves at some pretty critical times in the game."

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.
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