Penguins earn share of first in division, but blown 2-goal lead in overtime loss
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NEWARK, N.J. -- First place isn't supposed to feel this bad.
Of course, teams don't usually get a piece of it by giving up three unanswered goals as a game is winding down.
But that's what the Penguins did last night, as they let a two-goal lead mutate into a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey before hundreds and hundreds of witnesses at the Prudential Center.
The point the Penguins earned allowed them to claim one-third of the top spot in the Atlantic Division -- the Devils and Philadelphia have the other shares -- but that provided little consolation. And even less satisfaction.
"We had control of the game," goalie Ty Conklin said in a decidedly subdued locker room. "It's a game I think everyone in the room felt we let slip away."
Coach Michel Therrien made no attempt to hide his anger about how the game played out -- "It's unacceptable to lose a hockey game like this," he said -- and singled out defenseman Ryan Whitney, who was on the ice for David Clarkson's tying goal at 11:21 of the third, for criticism.
"A guy like Ryan Whitney is going to have to be more aggressive around the net," he said. "He's not aggressive at all. It cost [us] the game."
Devils winger Zach Parise got the winner 37 seconds into overtime, when he deflected a Patrik Elias shot behind Conklin.
The Penguins, 3-2-2 in the seven games they've played since losing Sidney Crosby to a high ankle sprain, have not won consecutive games since an eight-game winning streak Dec. 23-Jan. 10.
"We spoke about that before the game," winger Ryan Malone said. "It's been almost a month since we had back-to-back wins, or a little streak."
Malone gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead during a power play at 2:26 of the second period by backhanding an Evgeni Malkin rebound past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, and Petr Sykora put them up by two at 11:50.
Malkin gave Sykora a between-the-legs drop pass and Sykora snapped a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. The puck caromed off New Jersey defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski and sailed behind Brodeur for Sykora's 17th goal of the season and 600th point in the NHL.
Conklin kept the Penguins in front by two by denying Elias on a deflection at 17:36, but couldn't prevent Jamie Langenbrunner from flipping in a Parise rebound 41.7 seconds before the second intermission to make it 2-1.
"Once we got up, 2-0, we got away from our game," Conklin said. "And gave them some life going into the third."
Even so, the Penguins killed a hooking penalty to Malone 30 seconds into the third, then manufactured their second power-play goal of the game a few minutes later.
Jordan Staal, positioned just inside the right circle, took a feed from Maxime Talbot, who was along the goal line to the left of the New Jersey net, and buried a shot behind Brodeur at 4:30 for his seventh goal of the season. Defenseman Kris Letang got the second assist, his first point in eight games.
Therrien used his timeout at 9:22 to rest players, but the move backfired when Elias got a fortuitous bounce 15 seconds later to make it 3-2. His shot from the right side went off Letang before eluding Conklin.
That goal rejuvenated the Devils, and Clarkson promptly tied the score by backhanding a rebound past Conklin from the left side of the net.
"You start giving any team some confidence and some momentum," Conklin said.
"And it snowballs on you, and it's difficult to reverse that."
The Penguins never could, and Parise capped the Devils' comeback early in overtime with his 20th goal of the season.
"We definitely played the third period and overtime like we cared," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said.
The Penguins, meanwhile, played without any obvious urgency in that time, which is why they have a piece of first place instead of undisputed possession of it.
"I don't think anybody's happy with it," Conklin said. "The way we look at it is, we let that extra point slip away. It feels like we gift-wrapped two points, almost."
First Published February 5, 2008 12:00 am