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Penalties in opener stalled Devils' momentum

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Penalties in opener stalled Devils' momentum
Taking unnecessary minors at critical stages of games has suddenly been a problem for the Devils during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NEWARK, N.J. -- It isn't so much the failure to kill penalties as it is taking those unnecessary minors at critical stages of the game that has suddenly been problematic for the New Jersey Devils during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It's something that has to change if the club has any visions of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Devils only allowed one power-play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their conference semifinal round game on Sunday, but were also forced to kill off five other penalties.

"We'll kill some penalties, but it's tough because it breaks the momentum of games sometimes," goalie Martin Brodeur told the media prior to boarding a bus to travel back to Philadelphia on Monday afternoon. The Devils will play the Flyers in Game 2 on Tuesday.

"We talked about it, and we know they are hot on the power play," Brodeur said. "And we gave them six opportunities … that's a little too much."

The Devils are seventh among the eight remaining teams in the postseason with 39 minor penalties -- only the Flyers have more (42).

"The penalties have been an ongoing issue the entire playoffs," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "There is a heightened awareness on some of the calls that guys aren't used to, and we're still managing finding that line. But we have to stay out of the box.

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"We've taken more shooting-the-puck-over-the-glass penalties in first two series then we have in a month in the regular season. Some of it is more attention to detail and having a little more composure at the right time."

New Jersey has been shorthanded a League-leading 33 times in the playoffs through eight games. The fact their penalty-killing has been anything but extraordinary with a 69.7-percent kill rate doesn't bode well for a team facing an opponent with a League-leading 44.8- percent power-play efficiency in seven contests.

"Our PK has to be at its best," Devils rookie center Adam Henrique said. "It's a big part of our game, but we realize the best PK is where no one is in the box. If we can stay down between one or two penalties a game, I think that would help out a lot."

The untimely manner that penalties were taken on Sunday at Wells Fargo Center was also a concern.

New Jersey was whistled for rouging and hooking minors in a first period that they pretty much controlled, outshooting the Flyers, 15-6. The calls killed any momentum the club had built and maybe any shot at taking a two-goal lead into the first intermission.

Andy Greene's hooking penalty 3:50 into the third led to Claude Giroux's power-play goal 29 second later to snap a 2-2 tie. Then, only 1:07 after Giroux's seventh of the playoffs, Petr Sykora was sent to the box for holding. The Devils did kill off the penalty, but had to exert plenty of energy to do so.

In overtime, Marek Zidlicky's minor for delay of game just 30 seconds in basically set the tone for what became an all-out blitz in the Devils' end until Danny Briere scored the winner at the 4:36 mark. The Flyers outshot the Devils in overtime, 7-4.

"The Zidlicky delay was an unfortunate thing," captain Zach Parise said. "There will always be penalties, but ideally we'd love to not take them at crucial times. It's going to happen, though, and we'll have to kill them off."

When the Devils are playing five-aside, they are tied with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for second in the playoffs with 15 goals. It is also worth noting that while the Devils' penalty-killing unit has struggled at times in the playoffs, the Flyers' PK has been no better. In fact, Philadelphia ranks last among the eight remaining teams in the playoffs with a 68.8 penalty-killing percentage.

DeBoer liked what he saw on the penalty-kill in Game 1.

"The PK looked to be back where it was during the regular season," he said. "You saw that confidence, and it's only going to get better. On the one power-play goal they scored, it was a perfect pass and perfect shot, so sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a great play."

Henrique feels it's only a matter of time before the club notches that first shorthanded goal of the postseason -- the chances have been there in recent games. The Devils led the League with 15 shorthanded goals during the regular season.

"I guess it's just one of those things where it's been there all year for us," said Henrique, who finished tied for the League lead with four shorthanded goals. "Once you get those chances, you have to try and capitalize on them as much as possible, especially in the playoffs. It's tough to come by goals, so when you get those chances you have to bear down and find them."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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