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DEVILS 5, BRUINS 4

Open, shut case

Bruins torched by Devils in shootout

There is a new look to the NHL, courtesy of a redesign that has opened up the game. Apparently not satisfied, the Bruins perplexingly seem intent on opening things up even more.

Unable to win the game during regulation when they were seemingly forever a man short -- no matter that they had a two-goal lead late in the second period and a one-goal lead with a little more than two minutes left in the third -- the Bruins last night lost to the New Jersey Devils, 5-4, at the TD Banknorth Garden in a shootout that the home folks were seeing for the first time.

Undoubtedly, they didn't like it, even if it did come gift-wrapped in a layer of local flavor. That's because a pair of Boston College legends delivered the New Jersey triumph -- Brian Gionta scoring the deciding shootout goal, Scott Clemmensen delivering the clinching save.

Happy ex-Eagles that they were, Gionta and Clemmensen hardly shared the sentiments with Bruins coach Mike Sullivan, who cared little for the way the overtime and subsequent shootout went, but was more perturbed by what he saw during the 60 minutes of regulation.

''It's tough to win games when you spend that much time in the penalty box," said Sullivan, visibly upset at the nine minor penalties his team drew. They came fast (Shawn McEachern was whistled off 25 seconds into the game, the first of his three -- all in the first period) and furiously and stretched until late in the third period when Glen Murray was sent off at 15:56 for hooking. Eight previous infractions had been dodged, rookie Hannu Toivonen (30 saves) thwarting New Jersey's power-play pressure.

The ninth time was hardly a charm, because with 2:32 to play, the elusive Alexander Mogilny (goal, two assists) rifled a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that Toivonen still hasn't seen. Having been down, 3-1, late in the second, the Devils were now tied, 4-4, and while they hadn't been involved in a shootout in any of their previous 10 contests, they liked their chances.

First, of course, New Jersey had to dance around the 4-on-4 overtime, something it did, but only because Boston defenseman Brian Leetch was unable to lift a puck over a fallen Clemmensen after some brilliant passing by Sergei Samsonov (goal, assist) and Joe Thornton, whose best game of the season (goal, three assists) was painfully overshadowed by the end result.

Having dodged that, the Devils got the jump in the shootout with a goal by Viktor Kozlov, but that was matched on Boston's second shot, by Thornton. All square, the stage was set for Gionta and Clemmensen. First, the feisty Gionta went up high and put a shot past Toivonen, getting it just under the goalie's armpit. At the other end, Clemmensen took a deep breath and tried to remember what Mogilny had told him before the shootout began.

''Not much," said Mogilny, smiling. ''Just a couple little ideas. I'd seen these guys more than he did. Some guys like to make moves, some guys like to shoot."

Unlike Thornton, who had tied the shootout on a nifty move to his backhand, Murray opted for the shot. Clemmensen, subbing for the injured Martin Brodeur, anticipated it nicely, though he wouldn't take all the credit.

''It hit the cuff of my sleeve," said the former BC netminder. ''I didn't stop it clean."

But it was stopped -- and therein rests the latest heartache for a Boston team that was playing its third overtime game in six nights. The stretch began with a shootout loss in Toronto last Monday, continued Wednesday with an overtime defeat in Carolina, and now this, the team's sixth loss in eight games.

''We just shot ourselves in the foot," said Murray, who stood and took the punishment. His penalty had led to Mogilny's tying power-play goal, and he wasn't about to make excuses. ''We know what we can and can't do. We have to realize that."

The loss overshadowed a solid effort by Toivonen, whose only mistake came 3:01 into the game. He misplayed a shot by John Madden and left the rebound for former Boston University standout Jay Pandolfo, who buried his third goal of the year for a 1-0 lead.

But at the other end, the puck bounced Boston's way, much to Clemmensen's horror. It was a throw-in by Thornton that Clemmensen thought he was going to gather in behind the net, only it caromed straight out, where P.J. Axelsson waited in glee.

''It wasn't the friendly bounce I was looking for," said Clemmensen, who was helpless 10 minutes later when Thornton, standing untouched at the top of the right faceoff circle, stole a sloppy clearing pass by Madden, walked in, and slipped one through traffic to give Boston a 2-1 lead.

It became 3-1 at 7:39 of the second when Murray finished off brilliant passing from Samsonov and Thornton for his seventh of the season, but as they had in games against the Canadiens and Hurricanes, the Bruins rejected the notion of a two-goal lead and sat back on their heels, almost inviting the Devils back in. Kozlov accepted the invite with goals at 17:26 of the second to make it 3-2 Bruins, and 5:55 of the third to make it 3-3.

After Samsonov scored his seventh of the year to make it 4-3 at 7:14, the door of opportunity was opened by Murray and the Bruins.

Mogilny gladly walked through with the tying goal, then he led Kozlov and Gionta to center ice for the shootout.

The Bruins, surprisingly, weren't shorthanded for the shootout. They were just short a goal. Again.

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