The injured stars have returned to the New Jersey Devils’ lineup in the past week and have given them a chance to win the Atlantic Division and to make a big post-season run.
Gionta scored the game-winner in his first game in almost a month, Jay Pandolfo tallied twice and the Devils took the division lead from Pittsburgh with a 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
“It’s great finally getting everyone back,” Pandolfo said after his fifth career two-goal game. “Hopefully Scott (Gomez) will be back in a game or two and we can have everyone going at the same time and get a couple of games under our belts before the playoffs.”
With their injured players returning, the Devils have won four of five games, giving them 102 points. They have a one-point lead over the Penguins in the race for both the division title and the No. 2 seed overall in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have three games left in the regular season.
“This is huge,” said Gionta, who had missed 19 of 21 games with a groin injury. “We need everyone healthy going into the playoffs. We have three games left to get the full team together and be able to go into the playoffs confident about our game and each other.”
Martin Brodeur made 17 saves to post his 46th win of the season, one shy of the NHL single-season mark set by Bernie Parent in 1973-74.
“They have scored less goals than us yet they have found a way to win, and they win through defense, through solid neutral zone play and of course, when you get through that, you have Marty to contend with,” Bruins coach Dave Lewis said of the Devils. “They are a good example of one of the best defensive teams in hockey.”
Petr Kalus scored for the Bruins, who are now 1-7-1 in their past nine games. The Czech rookie has taken three shots since being called up from the minor leagues six games ago and he has scored on every one.
Gionta got one of his pesky in-close goals to break a 1-1 tie midway through the second period. With New Jersey on its fourth power play, he deflected a Zach Parise shot. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas got a piece of the puck and it died on the goal line. However, Gionta reached behind him and swatted it into the net.
“He made a great play,” Gionta said of Parise. “He saw I was alone in front, walked in and took the shot. I was just able to battle for it and second chance it.”
Kalus also scored on the power play, taking a nice pass by Petr Tenkrat from behind the net and ripping it past Brodeur about three minutes before Gionta’s 25th goal of the season.
Pandolfo, who got assists from Madden on both goals, iced the game with just under six minutes to play by beating Thomas from the right circle for his 13th goal of the season.
Pandolfo had given New Jersey the lead a little more than two minutes after the opening faceoff, tipping a centering pass by Erik Rasmussen over Thomas, who finished with 21 saves.
Notes: Gomez is day-to-day with a bruised thigh. Veteran Sergei Brylin moved from wing and centered a line with Elias and Gionta. …Thomas got a few laughs when he fell trying to get off the ice on a delayed penalty in the second period. He got a standing ovation going back to the net, but got the last laugh when Kalus scored. The crowd of 14,378 also got a few laughs when a bird in the arena landed on the ice – behind the play – in the second period, and once during a fan goal-scoring contest between periods. …Devils D Brian Rafalski has assists in six straight games.