NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils have been winning so many close games in their frantic run toward the playoffs that sooner or later they were bound to come up short.
The surprise though was that it was the Ottawa Senators—the team with the NHL’s worst record entering action on Tuesday night—that got the best of the league’s hottest team.
Erik Condra scored his second goal of the game with 2:13 to play and the Senators defeated New Jersey 2-1, handing the Devils only their third regulation loss (20-3-2) in 25 games.
“We have been fortunate in the last so many games, and we’ve pulled them off all the time,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said.
Fourteen of New Jersey’s last 16 games had been decided by a goal, including 10 of the last 12 wins.
“Not that we were due, but when you don’t put goals on the board, sometimes, a lucky bounce, like the last goal, it’s going to happen. It’s definitely disappointing,” Brodeur added.
Coupled with eighth-place Buffalo’s loss to Pittsburgh, the Devils remain in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of a playoff berth with 16 games to play.
“That was a tough one, a tough one to take,” said Brian Rolston, who set up the Devils’ goal by Patrik Elias early in the third period, tying the game 1-1. “They played well and we didn’t play good enough. We let it slip. But we’ll get back to it next game.”
The Devils were their own worst enemies, failing to capitalize on two two-man advantages in the second period while trailing 1-0. The first one lasted 16 seconds, while the second ran for 1:12.
“We had our chances five-on-three,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “You have to be sharp and you have to be able to make the right play and get a goal there, especially when you get two and we didn’t. I think it’s the result, this loss.”
Elias had a goal disallowed for an obvious high stick on the second two-man advantage.
Condra’s fourth career goal was set up by Jason Spezza, who got the puck into the Devils’ zone following a turnover and then stalked back and forth near the blue-line waiting for a teammate to do something.
It turned out to be Condra. He came off the bench and skated hard down the middle of the ice. Spezza sent a pass toward the goal that deflected off Devils’ defenceman Andy Greene and went to the rookie, who deflected it past Brodeur, who had 19 saves.
“Just unbelievable,” Condra said after his 10th NHL career game. “You grow up watching a guy like that dominate the league and you get one on him and you’re excited; and two, the second one was lucky, but you’ll take it.”
Spezza says Condra plays a smart game and finds the right areas on the ice.
Craig Anderson made 31 saves as Ottawa snapped the Devils’ six-game home winning streak and prevented them from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since early in the season.
“We’re not really sailing into the end of the year because we have so many new faces,” Spezza said. “There are a lot of guys fighting for jobs. Maybe for a few veterans, it’s a little less pressure, but it doesn’t feel the way you would think a last-place team would feel right now. We feel the pressure to win games and perform because a lot of guys are auditioning for next year.”
Anderson stopped a couple of Devils’ chances in the closing minutes, but none was a serious threat.
Elias tied it at 4:01 of the third period, slam-dunking a cross-ice pass from Rolston past a defenceless Anderson.
While Elias got his 15th goal and Rolston got the primary assist, rookie defenceman Mark Fayne set up the goal, keeping a clearing pass by Senators defenceman Chris Phillips in the Ottawa zone. Dainius Zubrus sent the puck to Rolston in the right corner and he found Elias all alone coming down the middle.
Condra gave the Senators the lead early in the second period with a great individual effort.
Ryan Shannon started the play by beating Devils defenceman Henrik Tallinder to the puck behind the Devils goal-line and passing it back to Condra in the left circle. Brodeur stopped his original shot as he swooped in from the dot, but the rookie batted the rebound out of the air as he was falling to the ice.
Notes: Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson missed his 12th straight game with a back problem. … Ottawa forward Francis Lessard played in his 100th NHL game. … Ottawa leads the season series 2-1. … Devils F Ilya Kovalchuk had only one shot in the game, while his centre, Travis Zajac, led the team, with five. …The Senators have killed off 27 straight penalties.