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Devils stay unbeaten with OT victory

The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. - After blowing a two-goal lead in the third period by taking a string of five penalties, the New Jersey Devils didn't want to see the solid start to their season come to an end.

"We just kept the faith," said veteran Ilya Kovalchuk, whose overtime goal with just 20.5 seconds remaining gave the Devils a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals Friday night at the Prudential Center. "We had troubles with penalties in the third period, but we came through. We didn't want to go to a shootout, because anything can happen. We wanted to end it there. I got a good angle with that shot. The key thing was that we all had faith in the overtime."

The goal was the 14th overtime goal in Kovalchuk's career. He spent most of the NHL lockout playing in the KHL in his native Russia.

Martin Brodeur increased his NHL record for 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 - which was the last time that New Jersey captured the Stanley Cup.

Brodeur believes the Devils have enjoyed a positive carryover after losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in six games to the Los Angeles Kings last June.

"We were very excited to start back up again," Brodeur said. "We were very disappointed with the lockout. I just hope I can keep this going all year. When we left last year, we were disappointed, but it left us with a great taste in our mouths, the great taste of success. Now we're jumping right back in and it's like we never left. It's a short season and we have to capitalize on our momentum."

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.

"(Jacob) Josefson made an unbelievable play and I had the easy job to put it on net and it went in," Gionta said. "It's always exciting to help the team out. This was a big confidence booster for all of us, because we gave up the lead and still won the game. We were able to grab a big point, because everything is going to count later on."

Elias, who played with Gionta's older brother, Brian, on the 2003 Stanley Cup champion team, sees similarities between the two.

"I'm glad for Stephen," Elias said. "He plays a lot like his brother and can play in any situation. We're still not playing our best hockey, but we've been strong. I felt pretty comfortable out there and thought we were getting good opportunities. On my goal, I just stayed at the back post and I'll take my chances there. It's pretty nice that we're 3-0."

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. They killed 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. But Kovalchuk ended the game in the closing seconds of overtime.

Capitals coach Adam Oates wasn't displeased with his team's performance, despite losing for the fourth straight time.

"We stuck with it," Oates said. "Obviously we worked hard. We got a point out of it. We were hoping for a shootout out there. But we did a lot of good things."

The Capitals were the last NHL team to record a point this season.

Oates was asked if there was any panic in his team.

"No, there is no such thing," Oates said. "We just have to play like we did tonight. That's what we have to learn. We did a lot of good things. You obviously want the win, but you have to take the positives out of it. I've seen Kovy get goals like that before and I used to like it."

Oates was an assistant coach with the Devils for the last two seasons before taking the Capitals' job soon after the Stanley Cup Finals.

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 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.

"I can't say it was good for my golf game," Brodeur said. "I knew I wanted to come back and play this season, so I was definitely ready to play."

The Devils scored first when Mark Fayne made a play in his own end, passed it ahead to Gionta, who found 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.

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 save of the night by either goaltender.

The Devils then pushed the lead to 2-0 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 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.

However, less than a minute later, Green fired a shot past Brodeur for the game-tying goal that sent it to overtime. It would have been a crushing loss if the Devils hadn't recovered in overtime.

"I don't know if you can explain this," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said. "This time of year, you're seeing a lot of different stuff around the league. Things are all over the map, so we're just going to take the win and bank as many points as we can. You just have to survive it, take the two points and that's what we did tonight."

NOTES: Before the game, new Capitals coach Oates 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 DeBoer. "I learned about patience. I learned about organization. I learned how to run an entire hockey club," Oates said. ... 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 reached the 3-0 record for the fifth time in the 31-year history of the franchise in New Jersey.
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