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Penalty-killing pushes Devils past Lightning

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK -- New Jersey Devils captain Bryce Salvador is a staunch advocate of paying the price for team success.

That recipe was displayed again Thursday when the Devils received goals from four different players and goalie Martin Brodeur made 17 saves in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Prudential Center.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact New Jersey denied the League's second-best power-play unit on four chances, limiting the Lighting to two shots during those opportunities. The Devils haven't allowed a power-play goal in the past 19 times short, spanning four games.

Salvador admits there's no secret to penalty-killing success.

"I think it's just getting effort from everyone," Salvador told "Everyone is buying in and everyone is sacrificing to get the job done. When things weren't going our way earlier in the season, we needed to work harder because when you're not working hard, you create bad bounces.

"Right now, we're paying the price and getting rewarded for it."

The Devils received goals from Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk, Andy Greene and Patrik Elias on the way to their third straight victory. The club will now look to take over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with consecutive games against the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils (7-1-3, 15 points) play host to the Penguins (8-3-0, 16 points) on Saturday before traveling to Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The Devils led 2-1 before putting the game away with a pair of late power-play goals. With Martin St. Louis (tripping) and Adam Hall (high-sticking) in the box, the Devils extended the lead to 3-1 when Greene used a screen by David Clarkson to wrist a shot past goalie Anders Lindback at 15:02. The goal was the second of the season for Greene, who scored once in 56 games in 2011-12.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now and let's hope he can build on that," Salvador said of Greene. "He's definitely a player who can be an offensive threat in this league."

The Devils scored again during a two-man advantage -- Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher was called for abuse of an official at 13:48 -- when Elias flipped home his third of the season to Lindback's left at 15:16 to give New Jersey a 4-1 lead.

"Our goalies are making the saves at the right time, we're blocking shots at the right time, and everyone is playing a part," Elias said.

The Lightning pulled within 4-2 at 17:45 when defenseman Matt Carle ripped a shot past Brodeur from the left circle, but New Jersey's defense closed it out in dominant fashion. The Devils equaled a season-low by yielding 19 shots to a Lightning team that averages 27.4 per game and a League-leading 4.20 goals.

New Jersey snapped a 1-1 tie on Kovalchuk's second shorthanded goal of the season 17:34 into the second period. With the Lightning on their fourth power play, Kovalchuk broke in 2-on-1 with Travis Zajac against defender Sami Salo before skating into the left circle and lining a wrist shot into the far corner.

The goal was Kovalchuk's third of the season and his first in seven games dating to Jan. 25.

"He's been doing a lot of good things and he's a huge leader in this locker room," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of Kovalchuk. "I wasn't worried about Kovy [and his scoring slump]. It was just a matter of time. He could've had four tonight if he wasn't so unselfish."

Kovalchuk exhibited plenty of patience on his goal that Boucher considered the turning point in the game.

"It was just a 2-on-1 and I was waiting to see how their defender was going to react," Kovalchuk said. "He gave me a little more room and I shot it. It was good play by Travis. If he didn't skate with me, I wouldn't have had that much room."

Steven Stamkos, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday on Thursday, just missed tying the game four minutes into the third when he controlled a rebound at the left post and attempted to tuck the puck past Brodeur, but his shot skittered through the crease into the far corner.

The Devils, who led the League with 15 shorthanded goals and an .896 penalty-killing percentage in 2011-12, are certainly picking up where they left off this season and frustrating the opposition to no end.

"We just worry about ourselves," Salvador said. "Every team has great players and the general thought in this locker room is you have to outwork them. If you come in with that mindset, knowing you have Martin Brodeur in the net, you have to like your chances."

DeBoer summed up his team's fantastic effort on the penalty kill in one word.

"Aggressiveness," he said. "It was a 20-man contribution [on Thursday]."

Tampa Bay pulled into a 1-1 tie when Nate Thompson beat Brodeur on a 20-foot wrist shot from between the circles after taking a pass from St. Louis 13:19 into the second.

The Devils jumped to a 1-0 lead 3:28 into the second when Adam Henrique connected for his third of the season off a rebound. After winning a faceoff in the left circle, Henrique fed Elias, who dished to defenseman Anton Volchenkov at the left point. Volchenkov unleashed a high shot that Lindback stopped but couldn't control and Henrique was there to cash in.

Both goalies were kept busy during a scoreless first period, when the Devils held an 11-8 advantage in shots. Brodeur's best save came at 7:47 when St. Louis spun away from defenders Mark Fayne and Salvador behind the Devils cage before dishing to Stamkos at the right post. Stamkos fired a quick wrist shot that Brodeur smothered with his pads.

Lindback's best save came with 18 seconds remaining when rookie Stefan Matteau skated into the Lightning zone before dropping to Kovalchuk in the right circle. Kovalchuk returned the favor on a pass right back to Matteau crashing the crease, but the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Swede stood his ground.

Lindback, who finished with 27 saves, was making his second straight start and the sixth in seven games. The Lightning, who have dropped three straight, travel to TD Garden to face the Boston Bruins on Saturday.


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