NEWARK, N.J. -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin admitted it was a tad bizarre walking into the visitors' dressing room at Prudential Center to prepare for a game against a team he competed with for six seasons.
But really, his new teammates couldn't be happier.
Martin would ultimately put the exclamation point on his return to the Garden State against the undermanned New Jersey Devils with an empty-net goal with 10.9 seconds left in a 3-1 triumph on Monday before 12,880. It backed up a superb effort between the pipes by Pittsburgh goalie Brent Johnson, who made 30 saves.
The victory was the first by Pittsburgh in New Jersey since a 1-0 triumph on Dec. 26, 2008. It was also the Penguins' first win over the Devils in two seasons, as New Jersey took all six meetings against its Atlantic Division foe in 2009-10. They are 2-4-1 in their last seven visits to New Jersey.
Martin's goal, his first of the season, was just what Johnson had dialed up in support of his stellar performance.
"Yeah, that was really cool when Paul scored," Johnson said. "I was very excited. First off, I was just happy when we got the puck out of the zone, but when I saw the two-on-none the other way, I was even happier."
Devils coach John MacLean had pulled goalie Martin Brodeur (28 saves) with 1:21 remaining in the third period and his team owning a left circle draw, but New Jersey couldn't generate any sustained pressure. Surrounded by reporters following the victory, Martin admitted regret over not dishing the puck to Craig Adams on the empty-netter.
"It's one of those things where I knew I had time and the puck was kind of rolling on end and I saw Adams a little late and was undecided on what to do (pass or shoot)," Martin said. "I was never in that situation so when I got back to the bench I started thinking about what I should have done. Really, though, it was just good to win."
Particularly for Martin, who was booed every time he touched the puck.
"It was a weird feeling even coming up to today because I didn't know what to expect," Martin said. "I didn't know how the crowd would react. I had a lot of good memories here and it's always tough, but you put that behind you. I'm a Penguin now, the guys have been great, we're having fun and it's good to get that first win."
The loss gave the Devils their longest season-opening winless streak (three games) since 2001-02. The team was playing with just nine healthy forwards in the lineup, but you would never know it in the furiously-played third period when they outshot the Penguins, 15-8.
The Penguins also had to shorten their shifts along the blue line after losing two defensemen. Brooks Orpik didn't start the game for reasons unknown and Zbynek Michalek (upper-body injury) was lost in the middle of the second period after taking a hit from Devils' forward Rod Pelley.
"We definitely buckled down there in the third when they scored their first one to put the pressure on us," Martin said. "With five defenders, we did a good job of keeping shifts short and making smart plays with the puck. We got the puck up ice and that definitely helped."
The Devils, meanwhile, were forced to play with just 15 total skaters due to injuries to defenseman Anton Volchenkov (broken nose) and forward Brian Rolston (lower back) and a one-game suspension to winger Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who was placed on waivers Monday. Still, the home team's best period was the last, as they pulled within 2-1 at 8:20 of the third when Patrik Elias ripped a shot from the left circle past a screened Johnson.
The goal ignited the Devils, who kept the pressure on Johnson and seemed to outnumber the Penguins in the offensive end. The 10th-season goalie, who is in his second season with the Pens, was called upon numerous times to bail out his team with stops on Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and Jason Arnott in a span of 1:10 midway through the third.
"I was telling Flower (Marc-Andre Fleury) that everything was feeling right before I went out there and it was just a complete team effort," Johnson said. "I give the Devils credit, they poured it on in the third, shooting from everywhere and going to the net, but our guys did a great job of not giving them the second chances."
Johnson also praised his team's effort after Michalek went down with his apparent shoulder injury.
"We shortened the bench and the guys pulled together," he said. "They were going on all cylinders and you knew they were going to shoot and go to the net hard. I just wanted to make that first stop. I didn't really need to make a second, since the guys were great in front of the net."
Travis Zajac also had a golden opportunity with 3:15 remaining in the third when he drew a Penguins defenseman to the ice and forced Johnson out of his crease before making a failed attempt at the right post.
"We were playing the game the way we wanted to play (in the third) and that was getting the puck deep and not turning it over in the neutral zone," MacLean said. "We started to chip the puck in and support and then worked to get it back. That's how you're successful."
Mark Letestu gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal at 2:32 of the second. Letestu stationed himself in the high slot and jumped on a rebound for his second goal in two games -- marking the second power-play goal by the Pens on 16 chances this season. Martin, who signed a free-agent contract with the Penguins in July, assisted on the goal.
The Penguins opened the scoring with 1:04 remaining in the first. Rookie Eric Tangradi made the play happen after alertly bumping Kovalchuk off the puck just outside the New Jersey blue line along the left-wing boards. Defenseman Alex Goligoski picked up the loose puck and stormed into the Devils end uncontested before releasing a slap shot from the top of the left circle that soared over the outstretched glove of Brodeur on the long side.