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Peppy Lemieux Sniffed Out

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Saturday, December 07, 2002


Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD - Mario Lemieux got only one point Friday night, so it was no coincidence the Devils got two.

The Devils shut down Lemieux and linemates Martin Straka and Alexei Kovalev for two periods and were able to hold on through a frantic third for a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Continental Arena.

The Devils led 2-0 until Lemieux helped set up Straka's deflection goal with 7:31 remaining. There were some anxious moments after that, with Straka, Lemieux, and Kovalev buzzing around the Devils' net. But Martin Brodeur held them off until John Madden's empty-netter with 30.9 seconds left sealed it.

Madden and linemates Jamie Langenbrunner and Jay Pandolfo combined with the defensive pairing of Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski to hold Lemieux to that one assist and only two shots on goal.

"One point, [two] shots, that's the best you can do,"
Madden said.
"Well, I guess we could have done a little bit better."

But not much. They limited Lemieux, Straka, and Kovalev to only two shots until they broke free and combined for five in the third period.

"Mario can change a game in one shift, that whole line,"
said Devils' coach Pat Burns, who was bothered by a touch of the flu.
"Madden's line played a tremendous game and the defense
. ... It's a question of not letting [Lemieux] get the puck first. That's how you match yourself against him and make your job a lot easier. If you keep the puck away from him, then you don't have to battle against him. To do that, you have to work as a line, and they did that as a line very well.

"They picked up a lot of pucks that were going to him before they got there."

Friday's win snapped the Devils' three-game winless streak at home (0-1-1-1) and gave them sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 33 points, two more than idle Philadelphia.

The Devils' first two goals came from defensemen as their top-line players continued to sputter.

The Devils have frequently gotten off to slow starts at home this season, but they jumped on the Penguins early with a goal from Oleg Tverdovsky 29 seconds into the game.

Joe Nieuwendyk had a big hand in the goal, first by winning the offensive-zone draw and then by interfering with Penguins goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin - and getting away with it. Aubin made a pad save on Jeff Friesen from the right circle and became entangled with Nieuwendyk at the left post as Tverdovsky swooped in to pick up the rebound.

Tverdovsky circled behind the net and came out to Aubin's right. Meanwhile, Nieuwendyk grabbed Aubin's left shoulder with his left hand for a split second. That gave Tverdovsky enough time to tuck a backhand wraparound inside the right post before Aubin could get his right skate over to make the save.

"I knew the goalie was out," Tverdovsky said. "I didn't know how. I knew he wasn't quick enough to get back and I knew it was an empty net, so I tried to wrap it and I think it hit somebody's stick on the way in."

Colin White made it 2-0 when his blast from the high slot beat Aubin high to the glove side 7:37 into the second period.

The Devils didn't give Lemieux much room to work his magic until the third period. The Penguins owner/captain nearly scored on a give-and-go with Straka that left him free at the bottom of the left circle with 9:55 remaining, but Brodeur flashed his catching glove and got enough of Lemieux's snap shot to direct it into the right corner.

"He loves to bring it to his backhand and go high glove after," Brodeur said. "I kind of read that a little and got a piece of it."

Brodeur had no chance, however, when Straka deflected Janne Laukkanen's shot past him. Lemieux had set up Laukkanen for a slap shot from the high slot with a pass from the right wing boards.

Lemieux, who was facing the Devils for the first time this season, had been scoring at rate comparable to his best years. He entered the night with 47 points in 23 games, but added only one to his league-leading total with Madden, Stevens and Company in his face at almost every turn.

"We had a couple of good chances," Lemieux said.

"They're a good team. They're tough to play against."

Thank's Maria, we needed your approval to feel good about ourselves. How about a little defense girlyman?

Tom Gulitti's e-mail address is gulitti@northjersey.com

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