Sykora Lifts Devils Past Penguins, 3-1
By Tom Canavan
Thursday, April 22, 1999; 10:39 p.m. EDT EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. Petr Sykora scored twice and the New Jersey Devils started making amends for recent playoff failures by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday night.
Martin Brodeur had 24 saves, Patrik Elias set up two goals and Jay Pandolfo scored into an empty net as the Devils struggled more than expected against the eighth-seeded Penguins, who probably had more good scoring chances than New Jersey.
Jan Hrdina was the only Penguin to beat Brodeur, but the Devils' goaltender had to come up with at least seven good stops to prevent Pittsburgh from tying the game at 2-2. His best were glove saves against Jaromir Jagr late in the second, another on Kip Miller with 3:27 to play and a pad save with 2:07 left on a shot by Jagr in full stride.
It was what the Devils' needed to prevent doubts from starting to creep in again in the postseason. New Jersey, which has been the conference's best team in the regular season the past three years, was eliminated by Ottawa in the first round last year and by the New York Rangers in the second round two years ago.
They got off on the right foot this time because Sykora continued his great play. He led the team with 29 goals in the regular season and he continued to lead them on Thursday night.
Sykora, who only played in two games in last year's opening-round loss with Jacques Lemaire in charge, was in the right spot at the right time on the game winner. It was a play on which the Devils kept the puck in the Penguins' zone and got a little lucky.
Elias' pass from behind the net deflected off a Penguins defender to Devils defenseman Sheldon Souray at the right point. He skated on goal and took a shot into a group of players in front of the net. The puck hit off someone and bounced to a wide-open Sykora, who backhanded the puck past Tom Barrasso, who faced 22 shots.
Hrdina got the first goal of the series at 7:20 of the first period, but it was Jagr who did all the work. The NHL's leading scorer took a pass from Jiri Slega in center ice, split the Devils' defense only to be stopped by Brodeur. Hrdina put the rebound into an open net.
Elias set up Sykora's first goal just 15 seconds later, stopping a Penguins pass at the left point. Elias took a stride toward the middle and then caught Barrasso out of position by passing the puck to Sykora above the right circle. His shot found the upper corner of the net.
Pandolfo scored with 31 seconds to play.
The Penguins played without Alexei Kovalev, a 23-goal scorer who sprained his right wrist in the season finale on Sunday.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press