Devils Finally Beat Jagr-Less Penguins
By Alan Robinson
Sergei Brylin and Randy McKay scored 1:33 apart during a momentum-altering sequence, and McKay screened Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso to set up another goal as the Devils evened the series by winning 4-2 Tuesday night.
Brian Rolston scored his sixth short-handed goal of the season and the league-high 15th allowed by Pittsburgh. And Scott Stevens restored the Devils' two-goal lead in the third period by scoring three seconds before the end of a power play caused by a Pittsburgh bench error.
The Devils, who prematurely exited the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 1 seed the last two seasons and were threatening to do it again, regained home-ice advantage going into Game 5 Friday in the Meadowlands.
The only difference then will be the Penguins may have Jagr, the NHL's three-time scoring champion and most creative offensive force, back in their lineup for the first time since Game 1.
Jagr skated in a warmup suit earlier Tuesday and said he probably would have played if the Penguins trailed, but wanted to give his injured groin another couple of days' rest.
Now, Jagr won't have that luxury as the Penguins must win in New Jersey for the second time in three games to avoid falling behind 3-2 and prevent Sunday's Game 6 from being a possible elimination game.
By winning, the Devils ended a streak of seven consecutive road playoff losses that began with their surprising 1997 second-round ouster by the Rangers and extended into last year's out-of-nowhere first round elimination by Ottawa.
The Devils, convinced they were outplaying the Penguins even while falling behind 2-1 in the series, clearly were superior Tuesday as the Penguins, for the first time, clearly missed Jagr's scoring, playmaking and skating skills.
At one point, the Devils had outshot the Penguins 32-14, and that was before defenseman Scott Stevens's slap shot from the blue line whizzed by Barrasso as McKay blocked the goaltender's vision by tying up Jiri Slegr in front of the net.
That goal, at 2:50 of the third, followed one of Pittsburgh's first glaring mental mistakes of the series, a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty resulting from a poor line change.
The Penguins didn't have the offense to come back after that, especially with Jagr not even in uniform and center Martin Straka, who scored three goals in their 4-2 victory in Game 3, being pushed, shoved and knocked off the puck nearly every time he touched it.
For the first time in the series, New Jersey scored the first goal, and the Devils never gave up the lead while scoring four goals for the first time in their last 16 playoff games.
With McKay off for holding, Rolston grabbed the puck near the blue line and beat Barrasso cleanly just 1:38 into the game. Rolston set a Devils team regular season record with five short-handed goals.
The same power play yielded the tying goal by Jan Hrdina at 2:50 as he swept Robbie Brown's pass by Martin Brodeur, who had a relatively quiet night by facing only 18 shots 21 fewer than Barrasso saw.
The Devils, who lost Game 3 mostly because they allowed two Pittsburgh goals only 40 seconds apart at the start of the third period, may have won this one because of a similar flurry.
McKay restored the Devils' lead 42 seconds before the end of the first period by putting his stick on Brylin's odd-angle shot from along the left-wing boards.
Just 51 seconds into the second period, Brylin himself made it 3-1 with a slap shot along the upper edge of the right circle for his second goal of the series.
Pittsburgh got back to within a goal as Brown literally found the goal at 7:28 with a slap shot from the left circle. The shot so buried itself in the net alongside Brodeur's left knee that it took two officials nearly a full minute to pry it out.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press