As the dying seconds of overtime ticked away, Penguin goalie Brent Johnson lay on his back and watched helplessly as Ilya Kovalchuck launched the game-winning shot into an empty net to propel the surging Devils to a 2-1 victory tonight at the Rock.
A tightly-checked game that elicited rare scoring changes could have gone either way, but when Zbynek Michalek took a penalty with just 2:14 remaining, giving the Devils their first power play of the contest, the dire outcome seemed inevitable. The Pittsburgh penalty-killers were valiant but succumbed with just 25 seconds remaining.
Having played all but six minutes of the game with just five defensemen, the Pens fought furiously to the end. All-Star Kris Letang received a game misconduct early in the first period when his failure to tie down his jersey became apparent after a minor scrap with Travis Zajac. Zajac scored New Jersey’s first goal in the second period with a meager backhand that escaped Brent Johnson’s blocker.
Pittsburgh’s only goal came from Tyler Kennedy on a crafty wrist-shot that surprised Martin Brodeur and beat him in the top corner just a couple minutes after Zajac’s marker. The Pens were outshot 30-26 for the game, and 3-0 in overtime.
New Jersey is now 19-2-2 in its last 23, while the Pens slipped to 7-8-3 without their offensive stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The road doesn’t get any easier as the Pens travel to Boston to face the Eastern Conference’s second best team tomorrow night at 7 p.m.