Nieuwendyk scored with 13 seconds left in the third period, then beat Miikka Kiprusoff on a breakaway with 28 seconds to go in overtime as the Devils rallied for a 5-4 victory over the San Jose Sharks, stretching their unbeaten streak to eight games.
New Jersey appeared headed for its first loss since January 4. But with goaltender Martin Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker, former Shark Jeff Friesen tipped a shot off the right goalpost and Nieuwendyk chipped the rebound past Kiprusoff.
Both teams had chances during a frenetic overtime, but the Devils cashed in on a rare 2-on-none. Defenseman Brian Rafalski broke up a centering pass from San Jose’s Vincent Damphousse and sent Nieuwendyk in alone from center ice. After veering in on his backhand, Nieuwendyk shifted and wristed a shot over Kiprusoff’s stick for his seventh goal of the season.
After scoring just three times in his first 38 games this season, Nieuwendyk has five goals in the last eight.
“I’ve been at ease for 3 1/2 weeks now,” he said. “Things are setting in a little bit. It’s no secret it was a big adjustment coming from Dallas to Jersey, but as each month passes, it gets better and better and I’m really feeling more confident in my game and more relaxed on the ice.”
“I said it after that 500th (goal), he’d started to heat up,” said right wing Jamie Langenbrunner, who came over from the Stars with Nieuwendyk. “He definitely did that tonight and scored some big goals for us, like we expect from him.”
Friesen collected a goal and two assists for New Jersey, which is 5-0-3 during its longest stretch without a loss since a team-record 13-game winning streak from February 26-March 23, 2001.
“Maybe we were a little lucky, but, hey, we played pretty good, made a couple of mistakes they capitalized on, but anytime you score four or five goals, you should be rewarded with a win,” said Brodeur, who made 32 saves for his 350th NHL win.
Owen Nolan scored twice, but San Jose fell to 0-2-1-2 during a five-game winless streak.
“That’s probably as good as we’ve played in a long, long time,” San Jose left wing Adam Graves said. “And if we play like that night in and night out, we’re going to win a lot more games than we lose.”
Sharks coach Ron Wilson was not nearly as optimistic.
“I’m totally confused,” said Wilson, who is 7-8-4-3 since replacing Darryl Sutter. “I’d like to see some guys take the bull by the horns and get the job done instead of sitting back on their laurels and acting like, I don’t know, like there’s nothing wrong or they don’t want the responsibility or accountability when it’s not going well.”
Friesen and Nolan traded goals in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the game before New Jersey scored twice in a 61-second span.
Nolan struck again on the same power play, getting San Jose within 3-2 before the end of the period when he swatted the puck past Brodeur from close range on the right side.
During a scoreless second period, Brodeur extended his left pad to rob Damphousse on the power play.
“As it turned out, that changed the game,” Damphousse said. “That’s why he’s one of the best goaltenders in the world - he’s making the big saves. It’s very rare when you get four goals on Martin Brodeur. We should have taken advantage of it.”
For a while in the third period, it looked like the Sharks would.
“We didn’t think it got away. We were thinking we could still get it,” Langenbrunner said. “When they scored the goal to go up, we were still six minutes (away) … and we kept battling. And fortunately, we were able to get a couple of bounces there at the end.”