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Johnson's Strong Performance Nearly Steals Two Points

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
NEWARK, NJ – When Brent Johnson was asked about what he expected from the Devils on Wednesday night following the morning skate at the Prudential Center he predicted exactly the kind of game which would unfold between Pittsburgh and New Jersey.

“We have to be mentally prepared for this one tonight because they are a team you have to play a patient game against no matter what,” Johnson said. “You can’t be looking to have a routing here. It is going to be a tough matchup from the drop of the puck.”

It was a tough matchup indeed. Thankfully for the Penguins Johnson was up to the task as he went head-to-head with the Devils Martin Brodeur. Johnson matched the future Hall of Famer save for save in a game which had a playoff intensity. Despite Johnson’s brilliance, the Penguins still found themselves on the losing end of a 2-0 decision.

“I thought that was a pretty good hockey game,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Both teams played pretty well. I thought our team played a pretty good game.”

Johnson, making his first start since a 3-2 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers on Dec. 12, stood tall in the net as he made 31 saves, with his only blemish a fluke first-period goal off the stick of emerging Penguins killer Niclas Bergfors. As has been the case in each of his seven starts, Johnson’s efforts at the end of the night should have resulted in the Penguins flying home with two points.

“As a whole we played a very good game and did everything we wanted to do,” Johnson said. “We just couldn’t put anything on that scoreboard.

“They played a patient game and they waited for their opportunities. When they get them they are usually pretty good.”

While Johnson was great from start to finish, he did some of his best work with the Penguins already trailing by a score of 1-0. He made two blocker saves in the second period to keep the Penguins in the Devils’ rearview mirror. First Johnson stoned Travis Zajac’s shot from the slot at 7:16 during a four-on-four rush and later with just under a minute remaining in the middle frame he denied Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who had a step on the Penguins defense entering the zone.

Johnson continued to stymie the Devils during the final frame when the Penguins had to kill three Devils power plays, including a 29-second two-man advantage midway through the period. Possibly his best save of the night occurred just before the Penguins went down by two skaters as Andy Greene sneaked in from the right point and one-timed a Zajac pass from the bottom of the right circle. Johnson quickly went from post to post to make the pad save.

As tough as it was to get pucks behind Johnson, Brodeur proved impenetrable at the opposite end for the second time in as many starts against the Penguins. Every time it appeared the Penguins were ready to unleash their high-octane offense Brodeur was there to keep their engine in neutral.

“On the scoring chances we did get Marty came up big a couple times there,” Johnson said. “It’s a little bit mentally frustrating because we know we did everything we wanted to do. Unfortunately we don’t have anything to show for it.”

Nobody was more disappointed that Johnson wasn’t able to add to his win total against the Devils than Bylsma, who appreciated the performance his backup netminder put forth.

“I would like for him to have gotten a win with him playing the game he did and with a lot of the saves that he made,” Bylsma said. “I know our team battled hard and played a good game. We played it the way we needed to win.”

A weird-angle goal by the Devils Bergfors was the only reason the Devils were able to come away with their fourth win of the season against the Penguins. New Jersey’s second goal was an empty net tally registered by Jamie Langenbrunner with 12 seconds left in the contest. The way Johnson played it was going to take a shot he never saw coming to get the rubber behind him and that’s exactly what happened.

Bergfors picked up the biscuit along the near boards at the bottom of the right circle. He simply threw a shot towards the cage and it went through several players before beating Johnson to the far side.

“It was just one of those seeing-eye pucks that went through a bunch of legs,” Johnson said. “I caught it right at the end. Before I had a chance to move it was in the net.”

The result is Johnson and the Penguins heading to Florida for the conclusion of this four-game road swing looking to erase a current three-game losing streak. As a veteran of 257 NHL games, Johnson knows how to cope with the ebb and flow of an 82-game season. He believes if the Penguins play the same way on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning their recent slide will be a thing of the past.

“I think it is something to build off,” Johnson said. “Obviously it is three straight losses but I think we played a wonderful game. We just have nothing to show for it.”

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