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Hurting Pens fall to Devils

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a power play with 24.9 seconds left in overtime and the New Jersey Devils continued their remarkable playoff push with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

The goal was the second straight winner for the $100 million man, his sixth in the last 12 games and his ninth of the season.

More importantly, it gave New Jersey its 19th win in 23 games (19-2-2) and handed the injury ravaged Penguins their eighth loss in 10 games (2-5-3).

Travis Zajac scored for the Devils, while Tyler Kennedy tallied for Pittsburgh, which continues to play without Sidney Crosby (concussion).

Kovalchuk’s 23rd goal of the season came with the Devils on their only power play of the game. Zbynek Michalek was sent off for hooking.

The Penguins, who played most of the game with five defenseman after Kris Letang got an early game misconduct for not tying down his jersey, blocked most of the Devils chances until Brent Johnson made an amazing sliding save on Patrik Elias near the left corner of the net.

Johnson could not regain his footing and the puck came out to Kovalchuk between the circles for a shot into a wide-open net that allowed the Devils to celebrate again.

Kovalchuk, of course, got down on a knee and pumped his fist all the way toward center ice.

Both teams had chances to break the tie in the third period with Brian Rolston coming closest when he hit the crossbar with just over four minutes to play after being set up by kick pass from Dainius Zubrus.

Kennedy probably had the Penguins best chance, handcuffing Martin Brodeur, who had 25 saves, with a shot from the right circle early in the period.

Zajac, who got only his third career fighting major in the opening minutes, gave the Devils a 1-0 lead with a great individual effort that also took advantage of some sloppy play by the Penguins in their own end.

Zajac picked up a loose puck in center ice, skated into the Pittsburgh end, split Michalek and fellow defenseman Paul Martin and beat Johnson with a backhander at 3:44 for his 10th goal of the season.