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Devils End Their Dry Spell

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http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?level_...33&page=6061624

By TOM GULITTI

Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH - Joe Nieuwendyk never raised his stick.

In fact, he didn't celebrate at all when his goal drought finally came to an end in the first period of the Devils' 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Mellon Arena.

He claimed he smiled, but it must have been quick because it was hardly noticeable.

What mattered most to Nieuwendyk was not that he finally scored a goal after going 20 games without one. It was that the Devils ended their three-game losing streak (one in overtime).

"I was happy. Don't get me wrong," Nieuwendyk said. "I just hope that it's a sign of things to come and I build a little confidence off that. Hopefully, we can as a team with a big win tonight, too."

Nieuwendyk also assisted on Oleg Tverdovsky's game-winner 4:04 into the second to notch his first two-point game of the season. Brian Gionta returned from a two-game layoff with a sprained right ankle to provide a much-needed spark and score his team's third goal.

The three goals were a welcome relief for the Devils after being shut out, 3-0, by Ottawa on Wednesday night. That they came against the Penguins, who have lost 10 in a row (one in overtime) didn't seem to matter.

Also notable was the effort of the Devils' checking line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, and Jamie Langenbrunner in holding Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, the league's leading scorer with 55 points, off the score sheet. Lemieux has not registered a point in three consecutive games.

Martin Brodeur needed to make just 15 saves to post his 16th win of the season.

"We played well tonight," Devils' coach Pat Burns said. "We skated well. Madden's line did a good job against Lemieux, and Marty made the big saves. Everybody played well."

For the record, Nieuwendyk ended his goal drought 12:55 into the first period to tie the game at 1-1. He picked off a pass from Ville Nieminen at the top of the left circle, moved a couple of strides closer, and beat goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin between the pads with a slap shot, just his third goal of the season.

That ended Nieuwendyk's drought at 43 shots on goal over 20 hours, 55 minutes, and 26 seconds of playing time. He last scored 36 seconds into the third period of a 5-1 win over Chicago on Nov. 2.

And, coincidentally, he did it just in time to face his old team, the Dallas Stars, for the first time Saturday without that burden hanging over him.

If he was relieved it was over, however, he didn't show it.

"It wasn't a big deal," said rookie Christian Berglund, who played left wing on Nieuwendyk's line with Turner Stevenson on the right side. "It was just a matter of time."

Nieuwendyk, 36 and headed for unrestricted free agency at season's end, entered the night with only 14 points in 29 games. As hard as he tried to stay positive, he admitted it wasn't easy.

"I don't know if I didn't let it get to me," Nieuwendyk said. "You just keep plugging away. I'm a firm believer that good things will happen eventually. I struggle with confidence just like anybody."

Not all the Devils' droughts ended.

Patrik Elias failed to score for the 13th game in a row and had his frustration compounded by his failure to get off a shot when he had the puck on his stick and the Penguins had pulled Aubin for an extra skater in the final minute.

The Devils' power play failed to score on three more chances Thursday and is 0-for-32 over the last 12 games.

But enough breaks went the Devils' way that it didn't matter. On Tverdovsky's game-winner, Nieuwendyk was in position for the draw in the right circle, but Randy Robitaille was slow in lining up and did not meet the five-second limit, so linesman Ryan Galloway dropped the puck without him there. Nieuwendyk dropped it back to the point to Tverdovsky, who blasted it past Aubin for his third of the season.

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Patrik Elias failed to score for the 13th game in a row and had his frustration compounded by his failure to get off a shot when he had the puck on his stick and the Penguins had pulled Aubin for an extra skater in the final minute.

I don't have as much a problem with this as the writer did. No one wants Patty's drought ended as much as me, and an empty-netter woulda been nice, but what I saw was a guy protecting the puck so that he didn't get burned on it, rather trying to end a skid with a meaningless goal.

I appreciate it, I don't consider not getting a shot at an empty net when there were a couple Penguins around him to be a failing.

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I thought the same thing. I was thinking he probably wouldn't really be too pleased with an empty-netter, anyway, except to help the team, and the clean shot wasn't there.

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