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Devils 3, Capitals 2 (OT)

The SportsXchange

BY JIM HAGUE

NEWARK, N.J. -- Ilya Kovalchuk scored his second goal of the season with just 20.5 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 3-2 victory over the struggling Washington Capitals Friday night at the Prudential Center.

It was the 14th overtime career goal for Kovalchuk, who spent most of the NHL lockout playing in the KHL in his native Russia.

Martin Brodeur increased his NHL record in wins with his 659th victory, stopping 24 shots.

The victory enabled the Devils to improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2002-2003 season -- the last year that New Jersey captured the Stanley Cup championship. The Capitals fell to 0-4 for the first time since the 1993-94 season, when they lost their first six games. But they did secure their first point of the condensed 48-game season.

Stephen Gionta scored only the second regular-season goal of his career in the first period, while veteran Patrik Elias scored the 362nd goal of his career, a New Jersey franchise record, on a 5-on-3 power play opportunity late in the second period.

Mike Ribeiro scored his first goal of the season off a 5-on-3 Washington power play in the third period and Mike Green tied the game with an unassisted goal with 2:56 remaining in regulation.

The Devils were whistled for five consecutive two-minute penalties over a five-minute span of the final period, killing off four of the penalties, but Green scored his game-tying goal with the teams at even strength, sending the game to overtime.

In overtime, Green was whistled for interference, giving the Devils a power play. Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, who was brilliant all night, made three saves, two on Kovalchuk, as the Capitals killed off the power play.

Neuvirth made 25 saves, several of which were of the highlight variety. Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal for the fourth straight game to start the season, the longest drought to start a season during his eight-year All-Star career.

The 40-year-old Brodeur has been spectacular to start his 19th season, allowing just three goals in three games. Brodeur has looked spry, alert and athletic in all three starts, proving that the lockout was perhaps a good thing for the sure-fire Hall of Fame goalie.

The Capitals, who lost 4-1 to Montreal Thursday night, came out with some fire against the Devils, getting the first two solid scoring chances.

Green fired a slap shot dead on Brodeur in the first minute. Two minutes later, Ribeiro tipped a pass that Brodeur had to swipe aside of the goal.

The Devils scored first when Mark Fayne made a play in his own end, passed it ahead to Gionta, who found Jacob Josefson at center ice. Josefson, who missed most of last season with a broken right clavicle, went through two Washington defenders to find a streaking Gionta all alone to his right.

Gionta made the most of his chance, firing a shot past Neuvirth for the game's first goal at 13:55. The goal came just as Kovalchuk was exiting the penalty box after a two-minute hooking call.

It was only the second regular-season NHL goal for Gionta, who scored in the final game of the 2011-12 season against Ottawa, then became a fourth-line darling during the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Josefson, who spent the lockout playing with Albany of the AHL, scoring eight goals in 30 games there, was one of the most aggressive players of the first period, firing a shot at Neuvirth in the closing minute that the goalie stopped.

New Jersey led, 1-0, after one period of play.

The Devils received a big break in the opening stages of the second period, when Capitals forward Wojtek Wolski fired a backhand over the bench for a delay of game penalty. But the Devils could not capitalize on the power-play chance, failing to get even one shot on goal.

The Capitals had a chance to tie the game when Devils winger Ryan Carter was whistled for tripping midway through the second period, but the Devils had the better of the power play, when Josefson had a breakaway that Neuvirth got his blocking pad on.

Josefson has clearly been the player of the game midway through.

In the same power play, Joel Ward had a backhand attempt right in front of Brodeur, but the veteran net minder slid across the goal mouth to slap the shot aside.

With a little more than four minutes left in the second, Capitals defenseman John Carlson went off for interference and Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky almost made Washington pay, when his wide-open wrist shot was gloved by Neuvirth.

The Devils then scored the game's biggest goal by taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play. Nicklas Backstrom got called for tripping with 1:45 remaining in the second period, then Jay Beagle was called for tripping as well just 18 seconds later.

The Devils set up on the power play and Zidlicky fired a shot that Neuvirth stopped, but the rebound came out to Elias, who easily tucked it home for a 2-0 lead with just one minute remaining in the period. It was Elias' first goal of the season.

The Devils played conservatively with the two-goal lead in the third period and it almost came back to haunt them.

The Capitals had five consecutive power-play chances in a 5:13 span of the final period, when the Devils were whistled twice for too many men on the ice, twice for tripping and once for unsportsmanlike conduct. The final power play gave the Capitals a 5-on-3 chance with eight minutes left.

With 7:15 remaining, the Caps sliced the lead in half, as Ribeiro tapped in a rebound of a shot from Mike Green.

The Capitals had another 5-on-3 chance for over a minute, but Brodeur made two saves and defenseman Anton Volchenkov made a clutch clear out of the New Jersey zone to preserve the lead.

NOTES: Before the game, new Capitals coach Adam Oates, who last year was an assistant with the Devils, announced that Ovechkin would return to his regular position on the left wing. Ovechkin played right wing for the first three games and only recorded one assist. ... Ovechkin is one of only nine players to score 30 or more goals in his first seven seasons in the league. Another is Kovalchuk. ... Oates, who spent the last two years as a Devils' assistant, said that he learned a lot about being a head coach from Devils coach Peter DeBoer. "I learned about patience. I learned about organization. I learned how to run an entire hockey club," Oates said. ... Chimera scored four goals last year against the Devils. ... Veteran Krysofer Barch, who has been battling rookie Stefan Matteau for playing time for the Devils, is impressed with the 18-year-old's composure. "You don't find many 18-year-old kids anywhere with that kind of maturity. You would think he's been here for years," Barch said. ... Because of the lockout and the compressed 48-game schedule, the Devils and Caps will face each other in a rarity, back-to-back games both in Washington on Feb. 21 and Feb. 23. ... The Devils were shooting for a 3-0 record, which would have been the first time since 2002-03 that they won their first three and only the fifth time in the 31-year history of the franchise in New Jersey. ... The Capitals fell to 0-4 for the first time since the 1993-94 campaign.
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