PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The wrong player was charged with the crime, and the true offender went free and tied the game.
Jordan Staal and the Pittsburgh Penguins played as if they were intent on administering their own justice.
Staal’s second of the game and 100th of his career was part of a three-goal outburst in a 6:07 span of the third period as the Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 on Saturday night.
New Jersey’s Petr Sykora was given a double high-sticking penalty 37 seconds into the third, even though television replays clearly showed it was the stick of Patrik Elias that struck Steve Sullivan and drew blood.
Elias scored a short-handed goal 1:10 later to tie the game 1-1.
“It was unrespectful to the referee for me, but I was trying to help my team and I didn’t want to have (Elias) go in for four minutes to the penalty box,” Sykora said. “We need him on the (penalty kill). I just got the idea, and it worked out and (Elias) actually got a goal there. After that, (the referee) came up to me, he wasn’t happy and I apologized to him.”
The incident appeared to make Pittsburgh play with anger. The Penguins dominated play the rest of the way, cruising to their third consecutive victory.
“We weren’t too happy on the bench,” Staal said. “Obviously, it’s tough for the refs to catch the right guy sometimes. It was tough to see the guy who should have been in the box score the goal, but the guys definitely rebounded nice off that one.”
James Neal’s NHL-leading eighth goal closed out the scoring after Chris Kunitz allowed the Penguins to retake the lead for good with a tally 1:10 after Elias’ goal. Staal scored his fifth of the season 70 seconds later.
“I think Kuny had a great goal to kind of keep us going, put us back in the right direction,” Staal said. “And from then on I felt like we pretty much dominated.”
Pittsburgh outshot New Jersey 15-4 after Elias’ goal.
In the postgame locker room, none of the Penguins showed anger about the penalty-call gaffe. They let their play over the final 18 minutes do their talking.
“You could see it pretty clearly it was the wrong guy in the box,” said Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 23 saves. “But I guess it turned out all right in the end.”
Penguins defenceman Kris Letang returned after serving a two-game suspension for boarding, but Pittsburgh still was without star centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby (concussion) continues to practise but said Saturday that he needs to see how he will respond to absorbing hits before he return to game action. Thus far, his teammates have been loath to make much contact with him since he was cleared to handle it last week.
Malkin missed his fifth game in a row because of soreness in his right knee. Without their two former scoring champions for the vast majority of the past nine months, usual third-line centre Staal played a game reminiscent of Crosby or Malkin.
He scored for the fourth and fifth times this season to give him 100 goals less than six weeks after his 23rd birthday.
“Staalsy’s a guy who flies under the radar with the superstars on this team,” Kunitz said. “We know how good he is. He’s proven it year after year. Right now, we’re missing some guys, and he’s going out and proving he can produce the numbers we believe he can always do.”
All four of the Penguins’ goals beat former Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg high to the glove side.
Neal scored for the seventh time in his past seven games. Brought in at the trade deadline last season to provide needed scoring from the wing, Neal had one goal in 20 regular-season games with the Penguins last season.
Elias’ goal, his second, extended his scoring streak to five games. But it was all downhill after that for the Devils.
“We really didn’t give ourselves a chance in the third period,” Elias said.
The flurry of goals—four in 7:27—was out of character for these teams against each other.
Last season, Pittsburgh and New Jersey combined for 17 regulation goals in the six-game season series. Only once did a team score more than twice in a game.
Fleury, who has allowed four goals in four games against the Devils, made perhaps his best save late in the first period. Fleury got his pad out to stop Adam Henrique, who skated in alone and went to his backhand.
NOTES: Elias is the Devils’ career leading scorer against Pittsburgh. … Henrique was called up from the minors for the game because the Devils lost C Jacob Josefson to a broken left clavicle in a shootout loss to San Jose on Friday. … The Penguins have been the NHL’s busiest team this season with 10 games in 17 days. This was their first game against an Atlantic Division rival. … The game was the 900th in the career of Penguins LW Steve Sullivan. … Penguins LW Tyler Kennedy (concussion) missed his fourth consecutive game.