NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils showed the Red Wings why they’re an opportunistic bunch Tuesday night.
The Devils scored three goals in the first or last minute of two different periods, and legendary goalie Martin Brodeur stopped 20 shots in handing the Red Wings a 4-3 loss before a sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center.
“It was some bad mistakes that were costly for us,” said forward Johan Franzen, who increased his point streak to four straight games with a goal and an assist. “I think this was a game that we should have won. If we just keep paying attention to details out there we win this game. We can’t let ourselves off the hook; we have to feel that we should win this game.”
Despite leading 2-1 at the start of the third period, the Red Wings surrendered three goals in the final period in a game that was tied three different times.
But defensive lapses, in the form of 12 giveaways, led to Detroit’s demise.
“At the end of the day we didn’t play well enough defensively to win this game,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “At the beginning of the third, for whatever reason, we didn’t want the puck enough, didn’t play enough, didn’t make the simple play when it was there.”
New Jersey scored in the opening minute of both the first and third periods and Stephen Gionta scored the game-winner with 36.6 seconds left in regulation, giving its longtime goalie his 684th career victory in what some thought might be his final game in a Devils’ jersey before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
It was Brodeur’s 1,250 career game but it wasn’t easy for the legendary netminder, who made 20 saves against the Red Wings, who lost another forward when Darren Helm suffered an undisclosed injury during the second period.
“I just know that Piet (VanZant) told me he wasn’t going out, so we got a lot of that around here,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said about Helm. “We’ll find out more tomorrow.”
Adam Henrique, Marek Zidlicky and Travis Zajac also scored for the Devils, while Brendan Smith and Todd Bertuzzi also countered for the Red Wings, who lost for the first time since the Olympic break.
The Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Henrique scored 27 seconds after the opening face-off. Henrique redirected his own rebound for his fifth goal in four games.
Franzen scored a first-period equalizer on a power-play shift that he dominated from the start. Looking more like a one-man wrecking crew, the Wings’ forward took the puck away from both forward Dainius Zubrus and defenseman Andy Greene, while making scapegoats of the Devils’ pair.
With the puck deep in the Devils’ zone, the Mule first got hold of the puck in the low slot and turned Zubrus inside out before firing a shot. Though he didn’t score right away, Franzen continued to work hard and retrieved the puck a second time when he stole it from Greene along the goal line and quickly snapped a shot over Brodeur before the legendary goaltender could react to it.
“We need him, all you have to do is look at our crew,” Babcock said. “We need him to be good but we need lots of guys to be good. I don’t think through 20 (minutes) we were as good as we could be tonight. We’ve played a lot of good hockey. This, to me, wasn’t one of our strongest games, so we got to get back at it.”
The Red Wings went up 2-1 in the second period when Justin Abdelkader made a perfect centering pass from the right wall to Smith. The Red Wings’ defenseman skated in from the right point, finding an opening in the Devils’ defense before beating Brodeur with a blast from the slot at 7:03.
New Jersey tied the score at 2-2 when Zidlicky was credited with scoring a power-play goal at 41 seconds of the final period. Less than six minutes later the Devils took their second one-goal lead when Zajac flipped a backhand shot from a difficult angle that beat a fallen Jimmy Howard.
The third period has been difficult to figure out for the Red Wings. They have now been outscored 67-52 in third periods and overtime this season.
“They scored a power-play goal, we took a penalty at the end of the period,” Babcock said. “I didn’t like the call but it doesn’t matter if I like the call or don’t. You got to kill those off.”
Detroit fought back to tie the game for a third time when Bertuzzi scored his second power-play goal since the Olympic break. Working the puck around the perimeter, Gustav Nyquist located an open Franzen in the slot where he unleashed a wicked shot toward Bertuzzi, who was set up in front of Brodeur. The puck ricocheted off Bertuzzi and squeezed underneath the netminder’s right pad at 9:43 of the third.
But the Devils capitalized on a fantastic play by Jaromir Jagr who had too much time in space to find Gionta on the game-winning play.
“To let points slip away like that is frustrating,” said Howard, who made 25 saves. “Up 2-1 on the road we were playing well, especially in the second period and then bad bounce for us, a good bounce for them and the game turned the other way.”
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