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Brodeur tough in the third

Sykora scores twice as Devils beat Penguins 3-1

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Posted: Tuesday May 04, 1999 01:13 PM

  Hrdina celebrates scoring Pittsburgh's lone goal in a losing effort against the Devils. AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Petr Sykora led the New Jersey Devils in scoring in the regular season and he picked up right where he left off in the playoffs -- playing against his idol.

Sykora scored twice and the Devils started making amends for recent playoff failures by beating Jaromir Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Thursday night.

"I feel pretty good about this team," said Sykora, who led the team in scoring with 72 points. "I feel pretty good about myself. I feel pretty good about what I am doing on the ice. I don't feel like a star. We don't have a star on this hockey team. We are stars as a team."

A lot of them contributed as the Devils took the lead in the best-of-7 series with Game 2 on tap Saturday afternoon.

Martin Brodeur had 24 saves, Patrik Elias set up two goals and Jay Pandolfo scored into an empty net as the Devils struggled more than expected against the eighth-seeded Penguins, who probably had more good scoring chances than New Jersey.

"We don't want to prove we can compete, we want to win the series," Penguins forward Matthew Barnaby said. "We still think we can win the series. We thought it going in."

Jan Hrdina was the only Penguin to beat Brodeur, but the Devils' goaltender had to come up with at least seven good stops to prevent Pittsburgh from tying the game at 2-2. His best were glove saves against Jagr late in the second, another on Kip Miller with 3:27 to play and a pad save with 2:07 left on a shot by Jagr in full stride.

"You have to make some big saves to win some big games in the playoffs," Brodeur said. "I was pretty fortunate to get lucky on a few of them."

It was what the Devils needed to prevent doubts from starting to creep in again in the postseason. New Jersey, which has been the conference's best team in the regular season the last three years, was eliminated by Ottawa in the first round last year and by the New York Rangers in the second round two years ago.

"It was very important for all of us. We're feeling very good about it," said Sykora, who referred to Jagr as his "hero." "It was a very tough game."

The Devils got off on the right foot this time because Sykora continued his great play. He led the team with 29 goals in the regular season and he continued to lead them on Thursday night.

"He's a very good player," Jagr said of Sykora, a fellow Czech. "He scores goals. He's also playing with very good players. They are playing together well and they are dangerous with their speed and skill."

Sykora, who only played in two games in last year's opening-round loss with Jacques Lemaire in charge, was in the right spot at the right time on the game winner. It was a play on which the Devils kept the puck in the Penguins' zone and got a little lucky.

Elias' pass from behind the net deflected off a Penguins defender to Devils defenseman Sheldon Souray at the right point. He skated on goal and took a shot into a group of players in front of the net. The puck hit off someone and bounced to a wide-open Sykora, who backhanded the puck past Tom Barrasso, who faced 22 shots.

Hrdina got the first goal of the series at 7:20 of the first period, but it was Jagr who did all the work. The NHL's leading scorer took a pass from Jiri Slega in center ice, split the Devils' defense only to be stopped by Brodeur. Hrdina put the rebound into an open net.

Elias set up Sykora's first goal just 15 seconds later, stopping a Penguins pass at the left point. Elias took a stride toward the middle and then caught Barrasso out of position by passing the puck to Sykora above the right circle. His shot found the upper corner of the net.

Pandolfo scored with 31 seconds to play.

Jagr left the ice after the goal but he insisted he was not upset and that he was not injured. He had a groin injury late in the season.

The Penguins played without Alexei Kovalev, a 23-goal scorer who sprained his right wrist in the season finale on Sunday.

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