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Devils blow lead but beat Caps 4-3 in shootout

by Dan Rosen /
NEWARK, N.J. -- The win and the accompanying two points will make for a much better holiday break for the New Jersey Devils this year than last year.

The way it all went down Friday at Prudential Center, with the Devils letting a three-goal lead evaporate in the third period before going to a shootout for a 4-3 win over Washington, will also make for an interesting storyline coming out of the break.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias beat Michal Neuvirth and Martin Brodeur made a spectacular glove save on Alex Ovechkin to improve the Devils record in the shootout to 8-1 this season. However, it was necessary only because Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera combined to score three goals in the third period, including a pair by Chimera over the final 7:16 of regulation.

"We make it interesting on ourselves," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "We did a lot of good things and got the win. Thankfully we've got 40-plus games to clean up some little things."

A year ago Friday, the Devils would have been happy to get a point any which way against an Eastern Conference opponent. They had nine wins and 20 points through 34 games, and it was bad enough that John MacLean was fired and replaced by Jacques Lemaire on Dec. 23, 2010.

Following the jittery win over Washington, the Devils find themselves nestled inside the Eastern Conference's top eight with 19 wins and 39 points through 34 games.

But they're being outscored in the third period 45-25.

"We've done it so many times," Elias said of the Devils giving up too much in the third. "Every time we do it it's a matter of us playing too passive and not confident enough with the puck, just throwing it away."

DeBoer called Friday's near meltdown a result of "immaturity in a couple of areas." He didn't want to go into much detail other than to say the Devils need to find "the composure to not let one goal turn into two and two goals turn into three."

It should be noted that they were playing without half of their regular defense. Andy Greene (foot) is on injured reserve, Henrik Tallinder has missed four straight games with back spasms and Adam Larsson is in Sweden attending the funeral of his grandmother.

"Give me another hour and I'll forget about how we almost messed it up," Brodeur said. "But, it's about winning in this League and you learn from some experiences. That's how you build yourself to try to be a better team. This is a lesson learned. We didn't pay a price for it."

The Devils didn't because Kovalchuk improved to 6-for-7 in the shootout this season and Elias improved to 4-for-6. Brodeur also remained perfect against six chances because Nicklas Backstrom missed wide and he put his glove in the perfect spot to rob Ovechkin.

"I didn't know what (Ovechkin) was going to do, but I know he beat Heddy (Johan Hedberg) on a high-blocker shot and that's the first thing I tried to take away, that shot," Brodeur said. "I don't know if he saw me or not, but I did something for him to discourage him from going there. From there I didn't know if he was going to keep it, go on the ice, go high -- I just stuck my pad there, put my glove up and he shot it right into it."

The Capitals didn't feel like taking solace in the loss, even though they fought back in the final 20 minutes to earn a point.

"It's a shootout, you've got a chance to grab another point and we lost it," coach Dale Hunter said.

It might have been different for the Capitals if for the first 30-plus minutes they had the same type of jump that they had for the full 60 against Nashville on Tuesday. Instead, they went down 3-0 after Kovalchuk, Alex Urbom and Adam Henrique all scored within the first 10:08 of the second period. At the time of Henrique's goal, the Devils held a 20-8 advantage in shots on goal along with their 3-0 lead.

"I don't think everybody give 100 percent effort tonight," said Neuvirth, who made 25 saves in his fourth straight start. "I think we only played 20 minutes, and that's not enough to win a hockey game in this League."

Neuvirth is forgetting about the final minutes of the second period, when the Capitals started to buzz and create chances in front of Brodeur. Marcus Johansson was stopped on a point-blank chance after Nicklas Backstrom had a shot hit the post.

"I thought our last three or four minutes we cycled, which is something we wanted to do at the start of the game," Laich told "I think in that couple minutes, even though it wasn't very long, it really gave us an idea of what we had to do to be successful in the third."

Laich started the comeback 3:48 into the third by finishing off a pretty passing play between Ovechkin and Dennis Wideman. Seconds after Anton Volchenkov's point blast hit off the post, Chimera put in his own rebound to make it 3-2 with 7:16 left. He then tied it by stuffing the puck into an open net off a cross-slot backhanded feed from Laich with 1:42 remaining in regulation.

"We played more desperate (in the third)," Hunter said. "We have a break now so they wanted to throw everything at them and they did.

"We came up short, but they never gave up and that's a good sign for our team."

DeBoer also saw enough positive signs from his team Friday, saying "we did a lot more right than we did wrong." He subtly addressed the negatives, but didn't feel the timing was right to focus on them.

"Sure you have some regrets and like I said, we've got to clean up some things, but it's Christmas and I'd rather dwell on the positive here," DeBoer said. "The win makes it easier (to go into the holiday break). We won the game.

"There are some good things going on," he added. They're not all pretty and we've got things to work on, but we're getting a lot done."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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