- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001


PITTSBURGH A two-goal lead is widely considered the hardest to hold in hockey, a feeling the New Jersey Devils reaffirmed Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Penguins turned the second period into a nightmare.

The situation seemed to be repeating itself last night when the Devils took a two-goal lead and the Penguins suddenly started playing like the game meant something.

But the bewitching hour came and went. It was too little, too late against a team that doesn't need to be hit over the head with a stick to learn a lesson. New Jersey actually stepped its game up about that time, killed a penalty and defeated the Penguins 3-0, never deviating from its fast-paced attack.

The win gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference finals, leaving it two wins away from a shot at defending its Stanley Cup championship. Game 4 is tomorrow afternoon in Mellon Arena.

Martin Brodeur got the shutout his third this playoff season and 11th of his career although he was rarely tested. It was just the second time since the return of Mario Lemieux that Pittsburgh had been shut down. The first time was in their playoff opener when Washington's Olie Kolzig beat them 1-0.

On Tuesday night, the Devils were ripping through the Penguins nine minutes into the second period with a 2-0 lead when Pittsburgh scored a short-handed goal. That turned the game around less than seven minutes later the Penguins went up 3-2 and eventually won 4-2.

The Devils seemed to take note when that moment came last night, picking up their already quick pace even more. New Jersey made a statement to the sellout crowd and the Penguins, who are now 3-4 at home in the postseason.

A minute later New Jersey's Petr Sykora got his stick a little high, caught Lemieux under the visor and took a minor for high sticking. It was the opportunity Pittsburgh had been hoping for, but the Penguins failed to take advantage. With that wasted chance, the game slipped away from Pittsburgh and the Devils got even stronger.

Tuesday night's game was the exact opposite. Pittsburgh scored a short-handed goal that turned the momentum completely, and the Devils spent the rest of Game 1 skating as if they were in a sandbox.

This time New Jersey took a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. Defenseman Brian Rafalski finished off a 3-on-2 break by whipping a pass from Alexander Mogilny past Johan Hedberg, who played far better than the final score might indicate. And it was Rafalski who set up the second goal, which Jason Arnott scored when the Devils were enjoying a two-man advantage.

It became 3-0 early in the third period off another odd-man break given up by Pittsburgh. Patrik Elias carried in with defenseman Colin White in tow and Andrew Ference trying to defend. But instead of passing, Elias shot and scored his sixth of postseason. Hedberg got a tiny piece of the puck with his right arm, but the puck fluttered into the cage.

Notes Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis was out with two broken toes in his left foot and didn't offer much of an argument. He skated twice but admitted he was having trouble starting and stopping. It was suggested he not try to play unless he was a little closer to 100 percent, and he agreed. He was replaced by Marc Bergevin, who played well against Washington. Also out for the Penguins last night was center Robert Lang, reportedly with a rib injury. His spot was taken by Dan Lacouture… .

New Jersey's Mogilny continues to be unlucky in the playoffs. He had 43 goals during the regular season but only four in the postseason. Last night he had two clean breakaways in the first period and both times shot into Hedberg's stomach.

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