Saturday, October 14, 2006

Gionta The Difference In Devils' Win Over Flyers

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -Brian Gionta remained hot. Coming off his first career hat trick which rallied his team from three down to help pull out a wild 7-6 shootout victory over Toronto in their home opener, the Devils' sniper once again delivered.

Gionta's team-leading fourth goal snapped a 2-2 tie and ultimately proved the difference in New Jersey's 3-2 comeback victory over the rival Flyers before an energized 14,177 at Continental Airlines Arena Saturday night.

"It's big for us," forward Zach Parise pointed out. "Philly's in our division obviously. It's a division game obviously and we battled back- another come from behind win. We played well when we stayed out of the box."

With the game knotted early in the third period, the Devils' little big man perfectly redirected a Brian Rafalski point shot by Flyers' netminder Antero Niittymaki at 3:33 to give his team its second straight win and improve to 3-1-0 on the season.

"It's just one of those things," he said after helping the Devils to their fifth consecutive triumph at home over their Turnpike neighbors. "I just try to get to the net when it counts. We have to create traffic and try to get some tips and rebounds."

"[Gionta] has been a clutch performer for us for the last couple of years," right wing Jamie Langenbrunner noted. "The last game, he scored the last three there to put us into extra time and then tonight, the game winner. He seems to find a way and it's good to have a guy like that on your team."

Martin Brodeur made Gionta's clutch tally stand up with 25 saves to notch his 449th career victory. He trails just the Panthers' Ed Belfour (457) and Patrick Roy (551) on the NHL all-time list.

"To win the games, you need the goaltender to be sharp and give the team a chance to win and [Brodeur] did a great job tonight," team captain Patrik Elias said. "We played pretty good game tonight. Especially the third period. It was very good for us. First couple of periods, too many penalties and we didn't get a chance to get in a good rhythm. We played a smart third period and gave ourselves a chance to win."

With both teams unable to stay out of the box in the first, each spent plenty of time on the man-advantage. After they killed off back-to-back minors, the Devils cashed in on their second consecutive opportunity to go in front. Parise opened the scoring when he took a Scott Gomez pass and beat Niittymaki with a wrister from the right circle for his third at 9:08. But the lead would be shortlived when the Flyers' Mike Knuble struck right back with a PPG of his own 2:06 later to tie it. With Elias off for a high sticking double minor, Knuble took a Peter Forsberg pass and beat Brodeur in front.

It didn't take long in the second for Knuble to put the Flyers ahead. Off a three-on-two rush, he got his stick on a Geoff Sanderson centering feed and deflected it in at 1:23. A video review confirmed that he had tallied his second of the night and third of the season.

The Flyers threatened to go up by two but a strong stop by Brodeur on a Simon Gagne backhand from in close during a delayed call on Colin White kept them down one. That proved pivotal late in the period when Langenbrunner deflected a Rafalski shot past Niittymaki to tie it on another PP with 1:41 remaining.

Rafalski picked up his third assist on Gionta's deciding goal which gave them another comeback win.

"Any time you're playing against your division, you're going to see them eight times a year. You want to get off on the right foot and it's a little easier. Make it a four point swing...That's huge. It's a good start. We got a big stretch of a couple of more division games coming up," Langenbrunner added.

"Any time you fall behind a team like that early, that's no good," defenseman Paul Martin said. "But the guys showed character and patience and kept plugging away and we were able to get the win."

Notes: After the teams combined for 13 penalties the first two periods, only one minor was called in the third on Knuble as the Devils stayed out of the box while outscoring their opponents 1-0 and outshooting them 11-7. ... Devils finished 2-for-6 on the PP while Philadelphia was just 1-of-8. ... Gomez had two assists and Elias also added a helper. ... Niittymaki turned aside 29 in a losing effort. ... Devils start a two-game road trip by visiting the Garden Monday against the Rangers before concluding at Pittsburgh Wednesday.


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