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Absence of Jagr

Devils beat Penguins 4-3, need one win to take series

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Posted: Tuesday May 04, 1999 12:41 PM

  Jason Arnott and the Devils knocked Jiri Slegr and the Penguins to the brink of elimination. AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The absence of Jaromir Jagr is starting to take its toll on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Petr Sykora scored on rebound early in the third period and the New Jersey Devils overcame a 13-second lapse to beat the Jagr-less Penguins 4-3 on Friday night to move within a game of winning their first-round Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series.

The Devils, who also got two goals from Randy McKay, can wrap up the best-of-7 series by winning either Game 6 at Pittsburgh on Sunday or, if necessary, Game 7 at home on Tuesday.

"I don't think they are going to roll over," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who only faced 17 shots with Jagr sidelined again. "I think they are going to go harder and everyone is expecting Jarg to come back. Everybody thought he would be here tonight, but I expect him on Sunday now that it's do or die."

Whether Jagr plays is questionable. The NHL's leading scorer missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury and he didn't sound optimistic that he would be able to play Sunday.

"It's tough to explain how I feel now," Jagr said after the game. "I feel hopeless and I feel like a fan. I want them to win so bad. I know how the fans feel."

The Penguins treated Jagr like a fan, too. They lifted his spirits by getting goals from Alexei Kovalev and Kevin Hatcher in a 13-second span late in the second period to tie the game at 2-2. Then they let him down, giving up two in the third and falling short when Kip Miller's power-play tally with 47 seconds to play wasn't enough.

"We would love to have Jaromir," Penguins coach Kevin Constantine said. "I think any team in the league would. We think he is the most valuable player in the league, and we don't like losing that. But we don't feel that we are not competitive without him, we feel that we are."

The Hatcher-Kovalev outburst tied the game at 2-2 after two periods, but the Devils came back to win in the third period.

Sykora broke the tie at 1:42 of the third period. He set up a shot by Patrik Elias by splitting the Penguins defense and then he put Elias' rebound past a defenseless Tom Barrasso.

"We gave them way too much life in the second period, way too much room to stake," Sykora said. "In the third period, we shut down the room and when we scored the third goal we turned the game around."

McKay got the eventual game-winner with 5:58 to play by re-directing a pass by Bobby Holik into an open net for his third goal in the last two games.

"After the second period all we said was we just have to go 20 minutes to get a lead in the series," McKay said. "We've done it before. We were at home and all we had to do was work hard, and that's what we did."

The Devils dominated the opening 36 minutes and built a 2-0 lead on goals by Scott Stevens and McKay while limiting the Penguins to just six shots.

However, everything fell apart in a 13-second span dominated by Kovalev, who also assisted on Miller's goal.

Kovalev first set up Hatcher for a goal right in front and then tied the game by putting in his own rebound.

On the first goal, Robert Lang was pushed off the puck to the left of the net. Kovalev collected it, circled to the left boards and then sent a hard pass on goal that Hatcher re-directed past Brodeur at 16:08.

The puck came right back into the Devils' zone after the ensuing faceoff and Kovalev scored right in front after Devils defenseman Lyle Odelein deflected the puck to him. Brodeur, who had 14 saves, stopped his first shot, but the second fluttered into the net.

Stevens scored for the Devils at 16:04 of the second period with a great move in the closing seconds of a power play. Stevens skated past a poke-check by Kovalev, split the defense and beat Barrasso with a shot from between the circles.

McKay got his first, tapping the rebound of Holik's shot into an open net at 11:47 of the second period. Barrasso stopped Holik's shot from the left circle, but he lost sight of it after it fell at his feet.

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