EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—With two games left before the Olympic break, the New Jersey Devils are fighting for every point they can get.
Jamie Langenbrunner scored two goals and Scott Gomez had a goal and three assists to help the Devils beat Tampa Bay 7-4 on Tuesday night to tie the Lightning for sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The win was the Devils’ eighth straight at home and their 13th in 17 games since the beginning of January. Last week, New Jersey beat division leaders Ottawa and Carolina in a span of three days.
The Devils and Lightning are even at 64 points. Perhaps more important, the Devils evened the season series at 2-2 but have a 5-4 points advantage because of an overtime loss to Tampa Bay last month. That could come into play if tiebreakers are needed to decide playoff seedings.
“We have to be pleased. It was a big win for us,” Devils coach Lou Lamoriello said. “We’ve gone through an intense six weeks and have been focusing well. Not losing sight of the big picture and not letting anything get us off track.”
New Jersey (29-21-6) scored three times in the first 8:40 and survived a three-goal Tampa Bay (30-22-4) rally in the third period that cut a 6-1 lead to 6-4 and elicited some boos from the Continental Airlines Arena crowd. Langenbrunner’s second goal of the game, with 5:43 left, sealed it.
“I thought we played really well,” said Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who stopped 31 shots but let long slap shots by Darryl Sydor and Vincent Lecavalier get past him in the third period. “We’ve got to get the third period out of our mind and be comfortable with how we played.”
The Devils jumped on Tampa Bay’s John Grahame, who had shut them out less than two weeks ago in Florida, with goals by Patrik Elias, John Madden and Gomez. That brought on Sean Burke in the second period and he did no better, allowing goals to Langenbrunner, Colin White and Paul Martin on eight shots before giving way to Grahame.
Despite the onslaught, the Lightning could have escaped with a point or two if they had stayed out of the penalty box. They committed nine penalties, including two in a span of 27 seconds in the second period that turned a man advantage into a two-man disadvantage and led to one of New Jersey’s three power-play goals.
One of the penalties was for having too many men on the ice, which incensed Lightning coach John Tortorella.
“I thought parts of the game we played very well, but other parts we were brain-dead,” Tortorella said. “Even in the second period when it was 3-1 I thought we weren’t playing badly, but we put ourselves in a bad spot with too many penalties.”
Still the Lightning fought back in the third period, and Lecavalier’s second goal, on a rebound after Brodeur stopped Martin St. Louis’ breakaway, caused some temporary discomfort for the hosts before Langenbrunner scored from directly in front of Grahame on the power play.
“These were big games for us,” said Brodeur, alluding to the Devils’ last three wins. “It’s nice to see us dominate them.”
Elias said he will replace Petr Prucha on the Czech Olympic team. Prucha sprained his right knee Saturday against Philadelphia and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks … Tortorella was ejected with 2:09 left in the game for arguing a boarding call against Evgeny Artyukhin … New Jersey C Erik Rasmussen suffered a dislocated left shoulder early in the second period after a collision in the Devils zone … New Jersey’s highest-scoring game of the season—eight goals—came against Tampa Bay on Nov. 25.