Stanley Cup Playoffs
The New Jersey Devils are just four victories and a short ride down the turnpike away from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
Claude Lemieux’s tie-breaking goal reversed Pittsburgh’s early domination and the Devils moved into the Eastern Conference finals against area-rival Philadelphia by beating the Penguins 4-1 Sunday in Game 5 of their semifinals.
The Devils, who needed just 10 games to win their first two playoff series, advanced to the conference finals for the second straight season and the third time since moving to New Jersey from Colorado in 1982. They lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers in a Game 7 overtime last season.
The Flyers-Devils series begins Saturday in Philadelphia.
“We want that next step,” Devils defenseman Scott Stevens said. “It only gets harder as it goes on, but we realize that. We’re a focused team right now.”
Goaltender Martin Brodeur, the NHL’s lowest-paid starter, once again controlled the high-scoring Penguins as Pittsburgh lost a playoff series in five games or less for the first time since 1979. The Penguins were swept in four games by Boston that season.
All but two of Pittsburgh’s eight goals came from Ron Francis and Jaromir Jagr, but neither scored Sunday and both were a minus-2.
The Penguins’ second and third lines were even more invisible.
“We didn’t see guys like (Tomas) Sandstrom, (Luc) Robitaille too much,” the Devils’ Shawn Chambers said. “That was good for us.”
Lemieux’s goal at 15:43 of the second, a relatively soft wrist shot from the right point off goaltender Ken Wregget’s blocker, gave the Devils a 2-1 lead. Just as importantly, it allowed the Devils to slip back into their low-risk, mistake-free defensive style that Pittsburgh never solved.
Chambers made it 3-1 at 6:27 of the third with the Devils’ second power-play goal of the game. Lemieux scored his second of the game and eighth of the playoffs - he had only six in the regular season - into an empty net with 18 seconds left.
By then, the hundreds of Devils’ supporters chanting “We Want Philly! We Want Philly!” were far louder than the few Penguins’ fans who remained.
Pittsburgh dominated play for the first 1 1/2 periods and once led 14-2 in shots, but, just as throughout the series, had no defense - and not much offense - after New Jersey got the lead.
The Devils, who lost to Pittsburgh in the 1991 and 1993 playoffs, held the Penguins to three goals or less in all five games, just as they did in eliminating Boston in the first round.
“They beat us pretty much in every aspect of the game,” Penguins defenseman Chris Joseph said.
Devils 4, Penguins 1
New Jersey 1 1 2 - 4 Pittsburgh 1 0 0 - 1
First period-1, Pittsburgh, Joseph 1 (Murray), 9:10. 2, New Jersey, Holik 2 (Driver, Broten), 16:31 (pp).
Second period-3, New Jersey, Lemieux 7 (MacLean, Carpenter), 15:43.
Third period-4, New Jersey, Chambers 2 (Zelepukin, Guerin), 6:27 (pp). 5, New Jersey, Lemieux 8 (Broten, S.Stevens) 19:42 (en).
Shots on goal-New Jersey 6-9-7-22. Pittsburgh 15-10-7-32.Power-play opp.-New Jersey 2 of 4; Pittsburgh 0 of 2.Goalies-New Jersey, Brodeur 8-2 (32 shots-31 saves). Pittsburgh, Wregget 5-6 (21-18).A-17,181 (17,181).
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