NEWARK, N.J. – Scott Clemmensen, a minor leaguer for most of his career, wondered if his NHL chance would ever come.
Finally given an opportunity, Clemmensen seized it after New Jersey No. 1 goalie Martin Brodeur sustained a biceps injury that will sideline him until March.
Clemmensen had another strong game, making 26 saves, and Travis Zajac scored the first goal as the Devils kept rolling with a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Clemmensen, who has emerged as the Devils go-to goalie, improved to 7-1 in his last eight starts.
“I saw a lot of guys I played against in the American Hockey League get the chance,” Clemmensen said. “Comparing myself to them, I always knew I could do the same, if I was given the opportunity. I waited a long time for this, but that’s why you work on your game in case something like this happens.
“Even though I have played in some games in the past, this is my first opportunity to play a stretch.”
Clemmensen realized that time was running out for a 31-year-old goalie who had played in only 38 games.
“I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to get,” Clemmensen said. “This is mine right here, and I’m going to try and make the most of it.”
Clemmensen has taken the sting out of Brodeur’s injury, which could have wrecked the Devils’ season.
“It’s been great. He’s a guy that has paid his dues,” Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner. said. “It’s great to see him get the opportunity and run with it.”
Zajac, Zach Parise, Dainius Zubrus and Patrik Elias provided the scoring for the Devils, who won for the eighth time in nine games. They avenged the lone loss in that span, a 4-1 defeat in Pittsburgh on Nov. 29.
Matt Cooke scored for Pittsburgh, ending Clemmensen’s shutout bid with 3:58 remaining. Evgeni Malkin, the NHL leading scorer, bulled his way past two defenders to flip the puck across the slot to Cooke for the tap in.
The Penguins’ losing streak reached three as they were beaten in regulation in New Jersey for the first time in seven games (5-1-1).
Zajac made it 1-0 with 2:21 remaining in the second, starting the sequence with a shot that sailed wide left of the Penguins net. Pittsburgh goalie Dany Sabourin couldn’t control the carom off the end boards and was helpless as the puck came right back to Zajac for the goal.
It was another frustrating period for captain Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins, who had their chances against Clemmensen.
Crosby had three excellent opportunities in the period: a close in power-play bid, a backhander after slipping behind defenseman Paul Martin and a wide-open shot that hit the post.
“We played a pretty decent hockey game but we got a few bad breaks on both sides of the puck,” Crosby said. “They got a few bounces on their goals and we hit a few posts. The effort was right, in the way we worked and the way we played, but we just didn’t get any results.”
Penguins coach Michel Therrien agreed with Crosby that the Penguins’ effort was there.
“It was one of those nights when everything goes against you,” Therrien said.
In the third, Parise deflected Bryce Salvador’s shot from the left point past Sabourin at 2:18 for his team-leading 16th goal. Zubrus tallied at 10:12 with Salvador picking up another assist. Elias added an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
Notes: The Devils went 4-1 on their annual Thanksgiving road trip. The game against the Penguins, the first at the Prudential Center since Nov. 21, kicked off a three-game homestand. New Jersey will host the New York Rangers on Friday and the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. … The Penguins have been hit hard by injuries to defensemen with Hal Gill (shoulder), Ryan Whitney (foot surgery), Sergei Gonchar (shoulder surgery) and Philippe Boucher (an undisclosed injury) all sidelined. … The Penguins called up forwards Jeff Taffe and Tim Wallace from their Wilkes Barre/Scranton (AHL) affiliate. Taffe played in one game earlier this season, and Wallace made his NHL debut. … Salvador took a puck to the face in the closing minutes and was helped to the locker room, clutching a towel to his face. “He’ll be fine,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “He’s got some stitches. I haven’t been told anything different.”