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Hockey

Devils take Game 4

Pittsburgh finally struggles without injured Jagr

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Posted: Tuesday May 04, 1999 01:01 PM

  Scott Niedermayer and the Devils ended a streak of seven consecutive road playoff losses by knocking off Jan Hrdina and the Penguins. AP

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The New Jersey Devils already had enough incentive to win -- the threat of falling behind 3-1 in the series, the fear of yet another premature playoff exit.

Pittsburgh's agitator par excellence, Matthew Barnaby, should have known better than to give them one more reason.

Sergei Brylin and Randy McKay scored 1:33 apart between the first and second periods, and the Penguins played their first flat game without injured star Jaromir Jagr as the Devils evened the series by winning 4-2 Tuesday night.

Brian Rolston scored his sixth shorthanded goal of the season -- and the league-high 15th allowed by Pittsburgh. And Scott Stevens restored the Devils' two-goal lead in the third period by scoring three seconds before the end of a power play caused by a Pittsburgh bench error.

Rolston's goal came just 1:38 into the game, and not long after Barnaby and the Devils' Bobby Holik nearly fought during the warmup. Barnaby blamed Holik for violating etiquette by shooting a puck into the Penguins' net; the Devils cited Barnaby for trying to get their minds off the game.

"Barnaby was chirping, and that's good," Stevens said. "He fired us up. We're still the favorite, and we're going home. I think we've got some confidence from this."

The Devils, who prematurely exited the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 1 seed the last two seasons and were threatening to do it again, regained home-ice advantage going into Game 5 Friday in the Meadowlands.

The only difference: Jagr, the NHL's three-time scoring champion and most creative offensive force, probably will play for the first time since Game 1.

Jagr skated earlier Tuesday and probably would have played if the Penguins trailed in the series. Now, he won't have the luxury of resting as the Penguins must win Friday to avoid falling behind 3-2 and prevent Sunday's Game 6 from being a possible elimination game.

"See you Friday," Jagr said to reporters who inquired about his status.

By winning, the Devils ended a streak of seven consecutive road playoff losses that began with their surprising 1997 second-round ouster by the Rangers and extended into last year's out-of-nowhere first round elimination by Ottawa.

"Evidently, they wanted us more than we did," the Penguins' Bobby Dollas said. "They looked desperate. It was like when we lost Jaromir, we said, 'Are we going to sit back and be embarrassed?' We were scared to lose and, tonight, they were scared to lose."

The Devils, convinced they were outplaying the Penguins even while losing the last two games, clearly were superior Tuesday as the Penguins, for the first time, clearly missed Jagr's scoring, playmaking and skating skills.

At one point, the Devils had outshot the Penguins 32-14, and that was before Stevens's slap shot from the blue line whizzed by Barrasso as McKay blocked the goaltender's vision by tying up Jiri Slegr in front of the net.

That goal, at 2:50 of the third, followed one of Pittsburgh's first glaring mental mistakes of the series, a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty resulting from a poor line change.

"I wasn't even supposed to be out there," Stevens said. "Jason [Arnott] broke his stick, there was a pass up the ice and I was going to the bench. They were hollering, 'Stay out there,' and I ended up getting a goal."

The Penguins didn't have enough offense to come back, especially with Jagr not in uniform and Martin Straka, who scored three goals in Game 3, being pushed, shoved and knocked off the puck any time he touched it.

"We didn't let Straka and their other guys carry the puck as much and we got in front of Barrasso," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "If you don't get in his way, he's such a big goalie he's going to stop the shots."

For the first time in the series, New Jersey scored the first goal, and the Devils never gave up the lead while scoring four goals for the first time in their last 16 playoff games.

The same Penguins power play that yielded Rolston's shorthanded goal also produced Jan Hrdina's tying goal at 2:50. He swept Robbie Brown's pass by Brodeur, who had a relatively quiet night by facing only 18 shots -- 21 fewer than Barrasso saw.

The Devils, who lost Game 3 mostly because they allowed two Pittsburgh goals only 40 seconds apart at the start of the third period, may have won this one because of a similar flurry.

McKay restored the Devils' lead 42 seconds before the end of the first period by putting his stick on Brylin's odd-angle shot from along the left-wing boards.

Just 51 seconds into the second period, Brylin himself made it 3-1 with a slap shot along the upper edge of the right circle.

Pittsburgh got back to within a goal as Brown literally found the goal at 7:28 with a slap shot from the left circle. The shot so buried itself in the net alongside Brodeur's left knee that it took two officials nearly a full minute to pry it out.

 
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