Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Islanders Swamp Devils Again

Like a broken record, the Devils once again fell to the Islanders- making it three straight losses to their Long Island rivals. But unlike the last two which needed shootouts, this time the Islanders thoroughly dominated them in a 6-1 blowout loss at the Continental Airlines Arena Tuesday night. It was the second consecutive defeat in which they allowed six goals and also marked the first time since '96-97 (December 31, 1996, and Jan 2, 1997) that Martin Brodeur was pulled in back-to-back starts.

Thankfully, it's the last time the Devils see them in the regular season with 17 games remaining. Only two points up on slumping Tampa Bay, three ahead of Montreal and suddenly just six ahead of ninth place Atlanta, the sixth in the East Devils find themselves in a tight playoff race.

Alexei Yashin and Sean Bergenheim each had three points and Rick DiPietro made 16 saves to spark the suddenly sizzling Isles to their fourth win in a row and pull within five points of Montreal for the final playoff spot.

"I thought we had a good shot all along," DiPietro told the AP. "As far back as we were, we realized we weren't playing our best hockey. Guys have been waiting patiently to turn things around. It's starting to happen now and it's an exciting time for us."

For DiPietro, it was his seventh straight win spanning the Olympic Break. In his last four games, he's allowed just four goals.

Though he didn't make many big stops, none proved bigger than a flat out robbery of a point blank Jamie Langenbrunner chance with the game still scoreless. Alone in the slot, Langenbrunner was setup perfectly by Jay Pandolfo and ripped a shot labeled for the top corner but a sprawling DiPietro made a huge glove save to thwart him. He also denied a Langenbrunner wraparound.

Shortly after, the Isles took the lead when one of their deadline acquisitions struck. Jeff Tambellini scored his first NHL goal when he put home a Shawn Bates rebound past a sprawling Brodeur at 7:23.

A fluky bounce would give them a two-goal margin 7:32 later. Off a rush, Bergenheim took a shot which caromed back to him. He quickly fired the rebound from a sharp angle and the puck hoppped off Brodeur's glove inside the post for his first of the season. Yashin and Alexei Zhitnik notched assists.

After being outplayed severely in the first period (outshot 11-4), the Devils came out with more physical play which led to a couple of early chances. But a sharp DiPietro kept them from getting back in it.

With the Devil offense stymied, the Isles took control when Yashin tallied twice 7:09 apart. Both goals were setup by Bergenheim on the rush. Taking advantage of some poor defensive coverage, Bergenheim and Yashin combined to put the contest out of reach. The first goal came when a Bergenheim centering pass trickled right to a cutting Yashin, who quickly fired it by Brodeur at 11:09.

The second tally came on a Bergenheim wraparound attempt which caromed to Yashin for his 21st to give the Islanders a commanding four-goal cushion with 1:42 left.

When Bates and John Erskine beat Brodeur from inside the blueline 5:01 into the third, his night was over early. For the second game in a row, backup Scott Clemmensen replaced him. Brodeur finished with 18 saves.

"I played 25 minutes and 35 minutes in two games," Brodeur said. "I shouldn't be tired. I'm tired of getting scored on, that's it."

Erskine's first goal as an Islander put the exclamation point on their sixth victory in eight meetings (6-1-1) against New Jersey this season.

Only a Paul Martin goal off a fortunate bounce with 9:01 left prevented the shutout.

Notes: Islander defenseman Alexei Zhitnik left the game in the second period with an ankle injury and didn't return. ... Devil defenseman Richard Matvichuk (back) missed his sixth consecutive game. ... Jason Wiemer did not play for the Devils due to immigration issues but could make his Devil debut Thursday night against the Penguins. ... Brodeur has allowed 12 goals on 39 shots in the last two starts. His next win will tie him with Jacques Plante (435) for fourth place all-time. ... New Jersey (33-24-8, 74 pts) hosts Pittsburgh (16-37-12, 44 pts) Thursday night.

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