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Penguins, up 3-0 in first, hang on to defeat Devils

Saturday, 12.14.2013 / 5:04 AM

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins scored three first-period goals Friday. Marc-Andre Fleury made sure that was all they needed.

Fleury made 37 saves in his NHL-leading 18th win, and the Penguins held on to defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 at Consol Energy Center.

With Pittsburgh protecting a one-goal lead in the third period, Fleury made several acrobatic saves to keep the Penguins in front.

Devils forward Steve Bernier sent a wrist shot on net 5:19 into the period that turned Fleury around. Bernier collected his rebound and backhanded a shot toward the net, but Fleury swung his stick and made enough contact with the puck to clear it away from the crease.

"I thought we started the game so well and everything was going well," Fleury said. "But we knew they weren't just going to quit there. They came out hard in the second, a lot of guys going to the net and shooting pucks. Even though they scored two goals, we were still focused on the game."

Damien Brunner had an even better chance 2:35 later when he came in on a breakaway. Brunner charged toward Fleury and deked to his right, forcing the goalie off his skates and sending him sprawling on his stomach. But Fleury whipped his glove upward to rob Brunner of a game-tying goal.

Fleury made 13 saves in the scoreless third period.

"We weren't ready to play," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of his team's poor start. "That's on me. We have to be ready to go at the start of the game. The first period killed us."

After allowing three goals in the game's first 14:40, the Devils scored two goals in 56 seconds early in the second to get within one.

Shortly after Pittsburgh killed New Jersey's first power play, Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov shot the puck from a difficult angle and Patrik Elias deflected it past Fleury for his seventh goal of the season at 3:24.

The Devils scored again when Jaromir Jagr's shot snuck through Fleury's pads and crept toward the goal line. Dainius Zubrus dove and tapped it in to make it 3-2 at 4:20.

New Jersey outshot Pittsburgh 19-5 in the second period after being outshot 12-7 after the first.

The first period was one of the Penguins' best of the season. They cycled the puck effectively, limited the Devils' scoring chances and capitalized on New Jersey mistakes.

Pascal Dupuis pounced on a miscue by Devils goalie Cory Schneider to score 41 seconds into the game. Penguins forward Chris Kunitz dumped the puck on net from the neutral zone; Schneider seemed to freeze it, but it sat uncovered between his pads. Kunitz followed and took a whack at it. He was steered to the side by New Jersey defenseman Mark Fayne, but Dupuis drove to the net and tapped the puck past the goal line before Schneider could recover.

"It was an inexcusable goal," Schneider said. "That can't happen at this level and it's not fair to my teammates to put them down like that 40 seconds into the game. I've always prided myself on not trying to give up goals like that. I don't think that's ever really happened before.

"It's a game [decided] by a goal, and there it is."

Pittsburgh's Brandon Sutter set up Chris Conner's goal at 7:55. Penguins forward Joe Vitale chipped the puck ahead to Sutter in the neutral zone, and Sutter fed Conner before Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas checked Sutter into the boards. Conner's wrist shot went past Schneider's blocker for his second goal of the season.

In the absence of suspended forward James Neal, Jayson Megna continued to impress playing next to Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen. Megna scored his fourth goal of the season and second in his past four games at 14:40. Defenseman Simon Despres' slap shot bounced off Schneider's pad to Megna, who had his back to the net. He whipped a shot around his side to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead.

"I think we are starting to develop more and more chemistry," Megna said. "I guess it comes over time. The more opportunities we get with each other, I think the more we find each other out there."

The three goals were the most the Penguins have scored in first period this season. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said he was pleased with the start to the game but said the Penguins need to play more consistently to avoid surrendering early leads.

"I would say for the first 10 minutes, first 15 minutes of the first we had the best opportunities, best chances," Bylsma said. "Chris Conner getting the second goal off of the neutral-zone turnover and then we turn back quickly and get an opportunity with Jayson Megna that gives us a 3-0 lead.

"For about six or seven minutes there at the end of the first period, I thought our play dropped. Marc-Andre had to make a handful of excellent saves, not to mention the end of the game where there were flurries of pucks at the net."

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