COLUMBUS, Ohio – The New Jersey Devils refuse to quit on their long shot playoff hopes.
David Clarkson scored twice and Martin Brodeur made 13 saves to earn his NHL-record 115th shutout as the Devils snapped a two-game slide with a 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
New Jersey is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind eighth-place Buffalo and the post-season cutoff.
“I think the turnaround is pretty exceptional, there’s no doubt about that,” Brodeur said of the Devils, who fell into a deep hole after a terrible first half of the season. “Especially in the situation we were in. We’ve gotten on some pretty good rolls throughout my career. I think this situation, to be able to turn it around and do what we did, has been a lot more fun.”
The Devils (34-34-4), who have 10 games left, were on a 23-3-2 tear before back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Washington this week damaged their playoff hopes.
Clarkson didn’t flinch when asked if the playoffs are still a possibility.
“I believe it’s possible,” he said. “We have the guys in here to do it. We just have to take it game by game.”
Brodeur was rarely tested as he made his 11th straight start. He used his pads to stop only a handful of dangerous chances by Columbus, which looked a step slow one day after an overtime win at Minnesota.
“I thought we played really, really well,” New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire said.
Steve Mason stopped 28 shots for the Blue Jackets (33-29-10), 2-6-4 in their last 12 games.
“They did probably the best I’ve seen a team get sticks and bodies in the way of shots,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “It was real evident, two teams—one team was very tired and one team was fresh.”
New Jersey broke out of a scoring slump after netting only one goal in the two-game skid. The Devils worked their game plan of simplifying the attack and fighting for rebounds to perfection.
Clarkson opened the scoring at 9:24 of the first period. Jacob Josefson beat two Blue Jackets out of the corner with the puck and threw a backhander on net. Clarkson, alone in front, popped the rebound past Mason.
“We played good in our zone,” said Clarkson, who almost had his first career hat trick but couldn’t convert during a late breakaway. “We didn’t allow many shots on net early. That’s a team, they’re fast, they’re a good team. I think we just did those little things that helped us out and got us the win.”
Columbus’ best opportunity came off the stick of R.J. Umberger, whose shot from the right dot clanged off the post.
The Blue Jackets didn’t register their first shot on goal until under a minute left in the opening period, drawing applause from the sparse crowd. Another shot was added during the intermission by off-ice officials.
“An embarrassing effort,” Mason said. “It’s frustrating.”
The Devils made it 2-0 near the midpoint of the second period.
On the rush, Andy Green fired a shot that Mason couldn’t corral as players were flying everywhere. Mattias Tedenby dug the puck loose, and Clarkson scored into an open net for his 12th goal.
Moments later, Mason stopped Ilya Kovalchuk, scoreless in four of five games, on a breakaway.
Brodeur’s best stop of the period came at the 12-minute mark on a hard snap shot from Rick Nash.
Nick Palmieri stripped the puck from defenceman Kris Russell, cutting through the low crease, and quickly snapped a shot past a surprised Mason at 3:22 for his seventh goal.
“I closed on him quick enough that I don’t think he had too many options,” Palmieri said. “The puck came right to my stick.”
A few minutes later, Brodeur hugged the post with his pad to stop an in-tight chance by Matt Calvert.
Notes: Columbus, eight points back in the West, also has 10 games remaining. … New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley, who was scratched, and David Steckel both starred at Ohio State. … Mason is 0-3 all-time against the Devils. … The Devils began a four-game road trip. … Kovalchuk hit thepost in the third period. … The Blue Jackets have lost five in a row at home.