NEWARK, N.J. — Jonathan Toews scored the only shootout goal and Antti Niemi made 32 saves as the Blackhawks moved a step closer to the Central Division title with a 2-1 victory over the Devils on Friday night.
Niemi had to make only one save during the shootout, but it was a magnificent pad stop on Zach Parise after Toews beat Martin Brodeur with a wrist shot on Chicago's first shot.
The Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner never got his shot off, and Ilya Kovalchuk missed the net with a backhander as New Jersey lost its third straight.
But by gaining a point, the Devils moved back in front of idle Pittsburgh and into first place in the Atlantic Division and into third in the East. Both teams have 44 wins and 95 points with five games to play, but the Devils own the next tiebreaker because they swept the season series from the Penguins.
The Blackhawks, with 103 points, moved within three points of clinching the division with five games left. Chicago leads idle Nashville by seven points.
Wing Kris Versteeg scored the tying goal for Chicago with 26 seconds left in regulation when his shot from the edge of the right circle hit the skate of Devils defenseman Mike Mottau and went between Brodeur's legs.
No penalties were called in the game. It was the first penalty-free game in Devils history, the team said, and the first in the league since March 28, 2001, when Boston faced Toronto.
In losing their past two games, to Philadelphia and Boston, the Devils started slowly. Against the Blackhawks, they came out fast and took 11 of the first 13 shots.
Kovalchuk put the Devils ahead at 5:49, taking a pass from center Patrik Elias and beating Niemi with a shot from behind the circles. The goal was his 40th. It marked his fifth straight 40-goal season and sixth overall in the league.
Wing Dustin Byfuglien had Chicago's best scoring chance in the first period. He took a pass from wing Patrick Sharp about 30 feet straight on and ripped a shot that forced Brodeur to make a pad save that had the crowd chanting "Mar-ty, Mar-ty, Mar-ty."
Brodeur also was lucky. He gave away the puck late in the period, giving wing Tomas Kopecky a shot at an open net. Defenseman Martin Skoula bailed out Brodeur by blocking the shot.
Chicago had only seven shots in the second period, but Brodeur had to make a good stop on a blast by center Dave Bolland in the opening minute and a glove save on a slap shot by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson seconds after a tip by Toews went just wide.
Devils center Dainius Zubrus didn't play because of an illness.
Game highlights: Tomas Plekanec scored the only goal in the Canadiens' 1-0 victory over the Flyers, and Montreal (84 points) moved two points ahead of Philadelphia and Boston (both 82) in the tight East race for the final three playoff spots. Montreal moved into sixth place. The Flyers, who lost for the second straight night and have one win in eight games (1-6-1), fell into the eighth and final spot because the Bruins have a game in hand. Brian Boucher, one of six goalies used by the Flyers this season, has one win in his past seven starts.
Flyers: Center Jeff Carter is scheduled to have an MRI exam on his injured foot Wednesday. He is expected to return in time for the playoffs if the team hangs on to a spot. The best-case scenario for goalie Michael Leighton, who has a high ankle sprain, is "at least three weeks," general manager Paul Holmgren said.
Penguins: Defenseman Sergei Gonchar and center Evgeni Malkin are expected to return for today's game with the Thrashers. Malkin has missed seven of the team's past eight games with a foot injury. Gonchar has been out for the past four games with strep throat.
Thrashers: The league suspended forward Colby Armstrong for two games for hitting Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault in the head with an elbow in the second period Thursday. Armstrong wasn't penalized. Perreault was injured but returned to the game.
|Blackhawks win shootout 1-0|
First Period—1, New Jersey, Kovalchuk 40 (Elias, Zharkov), 5:49. Penalties—None.
Second Period—None. Penalties—None.
Third Period—2, Chicago, Versteeg 18 (Byfuglien, Hossa), 19:34. Penalties—None.
Shootout—Chicago 1 (Toews G, Kane NG), New Jersey 0 (Langenbrunner NG, Parise NG). Shots on Goal—Chicago 9-7-9-1—26. New Jersey 12-10-8-3—33. Power-play opportunities—Chicago 0 of 0; New Jersey 0 of 0. Goalies—Chicago, Niemi 22-7-3 (33 shots-32 saves). New Jersey, Brodeur 41-24-6 (26-25). A—17,625 (17,625).
First Period—1, Montreal, Plekanec 24 (A.Kostitsyn, Bergeron), 9:25. Penalties—None.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Gill, Mon (interference), 3:59; Krajicek, Phi (interference), 5:53; Markov, Mon (high-sticking), 18:30; Briere, Phi (high-sticking), 18:30; Gagne, Phi (tripping), 19:25.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Pouliot, Mon (hooking), 2:41. Shots on Goal—Montreal 9-11-3—23. Philadelphia 8-13-14—35. Power-play opportunities—Montreal 0 of 2; Philadelphia 0 of 2. Goalies—Montreal, Halak 25-12-3 (35 shots-35 saves). Philadelphia, Boucher 6-17-3 (23-22). A—19,801 (19,537).