And then there were two…
Playing game number 47 tonight, the Penguins travelled to Newark, New Jersey to take on the New Jersey Devils. Having clinched first place in the East, the Penguins were simply looking to develop some sort of habits and patterns to carry them into the post-season. New Jersey, however, having missed the playoffs for the first time in twenty-four years, were trying to give their fans one last hurrah for the last home game of the season. Missing some familiar faces from both lineups, both teams were simply looking for bragging rights, the Devils leading the overall series for the season 2 to 1.
The first period passed rather uneventfully, Pittsburgh earning the only goal through the first twenty. While the Devils would outshoot the Pens 12 to 6, the Penguins goal came with 8:52 of the clock. The goal credited to Matt Cooke saw Cooke pick up the puck at the crease and stuff it behind goaltender Johan Hedberg who thought he had made the save. Could almost made it 2-0 seconds later, this time Hedberg making the save to keep it a 1-0 game through the first ten. Marc-Andre Fleury came up big against David Clarkson, stoning him point-blank to make the save with 3:30 left in the first period to keep the Penguins up through the first horn.
Both team exchanged penalties half way through the second, Hedberg being whistled for a delay of game after he played the puck out of the triangle while Jarome Iginla was called for a hook, negating the man advantage. Neither team capitalized, but Pittsburgh did pull ahead 2-0 courtesy of a late goal by Jussi Jokinen. The tally, coming with 5:59 left in the middle frame, resulted when Kris Letang sprang an outlet pass to a rushing Jokinen who blasted it past Hedberg where it bounced out faster than it went it. Fleury earned an assist on the goal, his first of the season. With 1:27 to go in the second, Travis Zajac cut the lead 2 to 1. The Devils continued to hold the advantage in shots, this time 7 to 5.
Just over three minutes into the third, following a tripping call to Pascal Dupuis, it was David Clarkson tying the game with New Jersey’s second of the night, beating Fleury on the power play. The goal was followed by another penalty to Pittsburgh, this time it was Brenden Morrow being called for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Devils an extended period of time on the man advantage. The Devils would eventually take the lead with 6:10 left in regulation courtesy of Ilya Kovalchuk. With 4:45 left in regulation, the Penguins earned a late power play opportunity when the Devils were whistled after one of their players closed their hand on the puck. The Devils would kill it off, holding on to the lead with just over two minutes to go. The game would stay at 3-2, the Penguins falling to the Devils, losing their second in a row.
Kris Letang led all skaters with 26:07 of ice time while Matt Niskanen had 21:32. Brandon Sutter registered four shots on goal while Brenden Morrow had three. Marc-Andre Fleury faced 32 shots while the Penguins sent 18 toward the Hedberg.
The Penguins continue to be without Sidney Crosby (upper body/dental work,) James Neal (concussion) and Paul Martin (upper body – hand.) Brooks Orpik and Joe Vitale were both held out of the lineup as well with lower body injuries. While Neal and Martin have returned to the ice, with Neal practicing for the first time this morning with the team, Crosby is set to return to practice on Friday.
The Penguins final game goes Saturday night at home when they face off against the Carolina Hurricanes. Game time is 7:30pm.