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Penguins top Devils 1-0 in shootout

by Alan Robinson
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins probably are convinced they see Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur way too much. James Neal, a Western Conference player for most of his career, hasn't faced him much at all.

For one shot - that proved to be the game-winner on a night no other skater put the puck in the net - that lack of familiarity proved to be an advantage.

Neal beat Brodeur with a bad-angled shot from along the goal line for his second shootout-deciding goal in five days, and the Penguins won in a tiebreaker for the third straight game by beating New Jersey 1-0 at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury, so inactive for one period he did an in-game workout, made 21 saves for his third shutout this season. Brodeur is 8-1-1 and has allowed only eight goals in his last 10 starts against the Penguins, with four shutouts, yet took the loss. He had nine career shutouts against the Penguins, by far the most of any goalie.

In the shootout, Fleury turned aside Brian Rolston, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. The stop on Elias came after Neal, the third of Pittsburgh's three shooters, went wide on Brodeur and somehow lifted a shot the clanked off the bottom of the crossbar. Kris Letang and Alex Kovalev failed to score on the Penguins' first two chances.

The Penguins will hand out their team awards before Sunday's home game against Florida. With Sidney Crosby sidelined since Jan. 5 with a concussion, Fleury (33-18-5) probably should demand a recount if he isn't the team MVP.

"That's a good team we played," Elias said. "It's a little frustrating because we're not scoring. But he's one of the top guys in the League."

Brodeur made 26 saves and was credited with the 116th shutout of his career, but couldn't prevent the Devils from losing for the fourth time in five games. New Jersey has scored only two goals in its last three road games. The inability to score has been a season-long problem for the Devils, who have a League-low 155 goals.

New Jersey had a pair of power plays in the third period resulting from penalties to Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy but couldn't score on either and finished 0-for-4 with the man advantage.

Despite getting a point, the Devils' attempt to pull off a miraculous late-season comeback and make the playoffs may be about over despite their 24-6-3 record in their last 33 games. They trail eighth-place Buffalo by 10 points with eight games remaining following the Sabres' 4-2 win over Florida. The teams play Saturday night in Buffalo.

"We got a point out of it, but we needed two," Brodeur said. "It's not a great situation."

Pittsburgh went to a shootout for the third time in five days - it beat Detroit 5-4 on Monday and Philadelphia 2-1 on Thursday - and ended regulation all even for the seventh time in 12 games. Neal has only one goal in 14 games with Pittsburgh since being acquired from Dallas, but he also decided the shootout in Detroit.

"I tried to just go in and make my own move, wait him out as long as possible," Neal said.

Chris Kunitz scored the game-winner the night before as Pittsburgh beat Philadelphia 2-1 in a shootout, yet coach Dan Bylsma held him back in case he needed a fourth shooter.

"He hadn't seen Marty a ton and he made an unbelievable move," Bylsma said of Neal.

Brodeur agreed.

"I forced him as far as I could go, but he kind of flipped it over my elbow and was able to find the back of the net," Brodeur said.

The Penguins, who are 12-1-5 in one-goal games without Crosby in the lineup, pulled within two points of Philadelphia in the race for the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the East. They also are seven points clear of fifth-place Tampa Bay in the race for the fourth in the conference and the final home-ice berth in the opening round.

The Devils were held to a single shot in the first period, by Rolston at 10:08 - also the game's first shot. Pittsburgh didn't take an official shot until Niskanen put one on net at 13:30, one of only three Penguins shots in the period. The combined four shots were the fewest in any period in Penguins' history; the previous low was five in games against St. Louis in 1969 and Phoenix in 1997.

"It wasn't the prettiest first period, but there wasn't a lot of room out there to make plays or get to the offensive zone," Bylsma said.

Fleury was so inactive in the period, he went to the gym near the Penguins' locker room between periods to get in a brief workout.

"I did some squats and pushups just to stay a little warm," said Fleury, who made 19 saves as Pittsburgh beat Philadelphia 2-1 Thursday in a shootout. "In the second, I got more shots and it was better."

For the Devils, it was the second time this season they were held to a lone shot in the first period; it also happened in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Jan. 4. Four other NHL clubs have been held to one shot in the opening period this season.

The second period was much more wide open - Pittsburgh had 13 shots to New Jersey's 9 - but it didn't matter with Fleury and Brodeur in net. Fleury normally doesn't play on successive nights, but backup Brent Johnson is sidelined with a neck injury.

Mike Comrie, out since Nov. 24 with a hip injury, returned for Pittsburgh and played left wing on the fourth line centered by Mike Rupp. Zach Parise, the Devils' star who has been out nearly five months with a knee injury, made the trip to Pittsburgh but is not yet ready to play.

Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was forced to use center Adam Mair as an extra defenseman after Henrik Tallinder was sidelined for part of the second period with a lower-body injury. Colin White also left in the second period with a lower-body injury.
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