Penguins fall to Devils in overtime
NEWARK, N.J. — Penguins coach Dan Bylsma probably planned to use his best player for more than one minute, 57 seconds of ice time Friday against the New Jersey Devils.
But these are strange times for the Penguins.
With several stars out of the lineup because of injury and Marc-Andre Fleury having the night off, defenseman Kris Letang was ejected early in the first period, and the Penguins succumbed to the Devils in overtime, 2-1. The Penguins (37-21-8, 82 points) remain in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
"This is adversity at its best," center Jordan Staal said.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the game-winner when Zbynek Michalek was in the penalty box following a hooking call that the Penguins vehemently disputed. It was the only time the Penguins were short-handed all night.
The Penguins withstood the Devils' power play until — with 24.9 seconds left and 10 seconds remaining on the penalty — Kovalchuk scored his sixth game-winner in 12 games.
"I don't know what he (the referee) saw," Michalek said. "To call a penalty like that in overtime ... I don't know. I thought I separated him from the puck well."
A New Jersey power play goal almost felt inevitable. With Brooks Orpik out of the lineup, Letang in street clothes and Michalek in the penalty box, the Penguins' blue line was wearing thin.
"I didn't think it was a very good call," Bylsma said.
Bylsma did not publicly criticize Letang but couldn't have been thrilled with him. Just 6:14 into the contest, Letang engaged New Jersey's Travis Zajac. During the fight, it became evident Letang's jersey was not properly tied down, which warrants an ejection.
As a result, Paul Martin saw an unfathomable 35:26 of ice time, and Michalek played 28:05. The Penguins' three other defensemen — Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen — also played well.
"Those guys are buying into the system," said Tyler Kennedy, whose 15th goal of the season was the only shot to beat New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur. "We have so much faith in them, and those five guys played great hockey tonight. They were getting us the puck in stride and making great plays all night."
The Devils improved to 19-2-2 in their past 23 games.
The Penguins controlled much of the play — especially in the first and third periods — and were confident they could kill the 4-on-3 power play in overtime.
"It was a great kill until the end," Lovejoy said. "Not for one second did we think we wouldn't kill that penalty. We thought we were going to kill it and win the game in a shootout."
Instead, the Penguins were forced to settle for a point in a second consecutive game.
Zajac gave the Devils a 1-0 lead early in the second period when he split Martin and Michalek before depositing a shot that squirted past Brent Johnson's stick side. Kennedy evened the game 2:15 later by stripping Kovalchuk and burying a wrist shot over Brodeur's glove.
The Penguins' locker room was as somber as it has been all season afterward, but Staal, who has emerged as a leader with so many key figures out of the lineup, saw positives in the loss. And he thinks the Penguins will survive the adversity.
"This is something we need to work through," he said. "This is when the character comes through for our team."Additional Information:
Devil of a time
The Penguins have had difficulty scoring against the New Jersey Devils recently, tallying two or more goals once in the past nine meetings entering Friday's game. Here's a look at those games:
Oct. 24, 2009: 4-1 Devils
Nov. 12, 2009: 4-1 Devils
Dec. 21, 2009: 4-0 Devils
Dec. 30, 2009: 2-0 Devils
March 12, 2010: 3-1 Devils
March 17, 2010: 5-2 Devils
*Oct. 11, 2010: 3-1 Penguins
Dec. 6, 2010: 2-1 Penguins
Jan. 20, 2011: 2-0 Devils
*Included empty-net goal
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