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Penguins tie game late, Despres defeats Devils in OT

by Mike G. Morreale /

NEWARK, N.J. -- On a night when New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider may have had his finest effort of the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins refused to give away a golden opportunity in a dominating offensive display.

After Chris Kunitz pulled the Penguins into a 1-1 tie on a power-play goal with 3:11 remaining in the third period, defenseman Simon Despres scored on a wrist shot from the point with 2:39 remaining in overtime to give the Penguins a 2-1 victory at Prudential Center on Friday.

"Our mentality is to play a 60-minute game and keep pressuring them," Kunitz said. "We know they're going to back in and play that great defensive style that they always do and their goalie stopped a few Grade A chances that maybe were goals if he wasn't in the net.

"We knew we had to just keep that energy going and try to find that goal to get it to overtime."

It appeared the Penguins were on their way to being shut out a second consecutive game before Devils defenseman Peter Harrold was whistled for high sticking at 16:31 of the third. On the ensuing advantage, Kunitz exhibited good hand-eye coordination when he batted home a rebound in the slot that hit the crossbar and fell over the line past Schneider.

"I just kind of whacked at the puck coming off the pad there but got it a little too high," Kunitz said. "It hit the crossbar before it went in so there was a little nervous moment there."

It seemed a matter of time before the Penguins got on the scoreboard. They outshot the Devils 43-14, including a 20-7 advantage in the third.

"It's easier to be confident when you're generating as many chances as we were and there are times when they've completely shut it down in the third and made it tough on us to get back in the game," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But this game was different. We created a lot of chances and allowed ourselves to get back into it regardless of if they got the first [goal] or not. We were playing the right way and deserved to come up with the two points."

The Devils took a 1-0 lead in the third period when Steve Bernier scored his seventh goal on his team's 10th shot. After picking up the puck along the right wing boards, Bernier muscled off defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, swung behind the net and jammed a shot just inside the left post that deflected off the skate of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and over the line at 6:08.

"I just thought our team was very resilient and stuck with the game plan," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "We didn't flinch when we were down 1-0 and whether we were going to get it on the power play or when we pulled our goaltender, we were going to stay in there."

Schneider, who was making his League-leading 43rd start of the season, made a season-high 41 saves. He made his best save midway through the third when he denied Crosby off a tip at the left post with his right pad. It was one of 19 saves he made in the third.

"It's probably one of the better goaltending performances that I've seen in a long time," Devils co-coach Lou Lamoriello said. "He gave us a chance to win, more than a chance to win. It's a shame he didn't get the win and certainly the team didn't get the win, but he deserved a better fate."

Devils forward Patrik Elias is unsure why his team cannot seem to generate more scoring opportunities.

"We have to be way better," Elias said. "We can't rely on our goalies to keep us in there the whole game and we haven't done enough the last two games. We're not taking charge, not skating well, we're not in the play and just sitting back.

"We didn't deserve to win [on Friday], that's the bottom line so you can't blame it on a penalty [to Harrold]."

Schneider also received a bit of luck, as a Crosby shot hit the post in the second and Kris Letang rang iron late in the third. It made no difference, however, as chants of "Cory, Cory" were heard throughout the arena for much of the third when the Penguins turned on the heat.

"When you look at the shot clock, you notice that they didn't have many chances and weren't in the zone too much and we were building off getting good shift after good shift and extending their defense on the ice," Kunitz said. "When you tire a team out, you hopefully get those second or third chances and find a goal on a bad rebound or something when they get tired."

The goal by Kunitz was his team's first since Jan. 27 when Patric Hornqvist scored into an empty net with 28 seconds remaining in a 5-3 victory against the Winnipeg Jets. The Penguins were shut out by the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.

"We had some first-shot opportunities and [Schneider] saw pucks through traffic and I give him credit for that," Johnston said. "We played a good game. Defensively we didn't give them many good chances."

The Penguins (28-13-8) won for the second in their past seven games (2-3-2). They will return to Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Sunday to play the Nashville Predators before a three-game Western Canadian road trip through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

The Devils (18-22-9), who lost for the second time in five games (3-1-1), continue their five-game homestand against the Florida Panthers on Saturday, before closing it out against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.

The Penguins, who entered the game having lost 214 man-games to injury, were without center Evgeni Malkin (lower body) for a fourth straight game and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), who returned to Pittsburgh as part of the League's concussion protocol. Depres was paired with Letang for most of game and played 23:01 of ice time and had five shots on goal.

Fleury's best save during a tight-checking second period came at 7:08 when he dove to his left to stop a slapshot by Elias with his shoulder. Each goalie didn't have to expend much energy in the second; the teams combined for nine shots, including none in the final 11 minutes.

Schneider turned aside all 14 shots he faced in the first period. His best save came against forward Brandon Sutter off a breakaway attempt at 13:33.

"Those games sting where you feel all you need is one; sometimes that's all you need," Schneider said. "I think we all thought we would hang onto it but got the penalty late and it cost us."

The Penguins limited the Devils to four shots, including two during a two-man advantage for a full two minutes when Steve Downie (roughing) and Maxim Lapierre (hooking) were sent to the box at 6:39.

The Devils are 0-for-5 with a two-man advantage this season.

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