OTTAWA – The New Jersey Devils are happy to have seen the last of the Ottawa Senators this season.
Chris Neil scored twice in the third period as Ottawa beat New Jersey 3-1 Thursday.
It was the second victory for the Senators (26-36-9) over the surging Devils (33-32-4) in the last nine days.
The win put a dent in the Devils’ playoff hopes. New Jersey remained six points back of the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“Those are points that we were counting on,” said New Jersey’s Patrik Elias. “For whatever reason we had a hard time playing both games against them. It’s tough.”
The Senators won the season series between the teams 3-1.
Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said it was tough to lose to the Senators again and see another two points slip away.
“Every point is so important,” he said. “Every night is a must win for us and now we’ve lost two to them.”
Ryan Shannon also scored for the Senators and Curtis McElhinney, making just his second start for Ottawa, made 33 saves.
Brian Rolston scored the lone goal for the Devils. Martin Brodeur stopped 23 shots.
With little left to play for, the Senators are embracing the role of spoiler.
“It’s kind of nice to make things tough for other teams,” Neil said. “We knew they were playing really well and we’re pretty happy to come out with the two points.”
Both teams had a number of good chances in the first period, but it was the Senators who came out with a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Shannon.
Ottawa was unable to score on a 49-second two-man advantage, but they made the most of the remainder of their power play as Shannon, standing right on the lip of the crease, tipped in Jason Spezza’s shot.
Brodeur and McElhinney were at their best in the second making a number of point-blank saves. Brodeur needed to make a big save on Spezza early in the period and a glove save on Marek Svatos later.
McElhinney looked great with a big stick save on Travis Zajac, then later he stopped Zubrus with the Devils on the power play.
“He made a couple of real timely saves,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said of McElhinney’s performance. “He was patient tonight and to me that was the most important thing.”
The Devils were equally impressed with Ottawa’s backup goalie.
“Their goalie made some really big saves,”said Zubrus. “It seemed like he just sucked everything in and didn’t give up anything.”
It was McElhinney’s first opportunity to play against Brodeur, who is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Coming out with a win was special for the young goalie.
“It’s always fun to play against guys like that,” said McElhinney. “Any time you get an opportunity to play against him it’s a big challenge because he doesn’t give up a lot of chances.”
The Senators took a 2-0 lead 55 seconds into the third on a controversial goal. Erik Karlsson shot from the boards and Neil knocked the puck out of the air and past Brodeur. The play was reviewed, and officials ruled Neil’s stick was below the crossbar when it hit the puck.
“I knew I didn’t touch it,” said Neil. “I was waiting for it to come down, but the way it was going I just needed to follow it.”
The Devils appeared to cut the lead in half less than a minute later, but Colin White’s apparent goal was waved off due to goaltender interference.
New Jersey finally beat McElhinney a few minutes later on a power play with Rolston’s shot from just inside the blue-line.
McElhinney made a huge stop on Ilya Kovalchuk late in the third to preserve the lead.
Neil added an empty net goal to round out the scoring.
Notes: The Senators were without RW Daniel Alfredsson (back, indefinite), C Peter Regin (shoulder, season), LW Milan Michalek (lower body, indefinite), G Pascal Leclaire (lower body, indefinite), and D Matt Carkner (knee, indefinite). The Devils D Mark Fraser and C Rod Pelley were a healthy scratch. C Travis Zajac played in his389th consecutive game and now holds the Devils record having surpassed Ken Daneyko’s record of 388.