SUNRISE, Fla. – Thanks to their power play, the New Jersey Devils didn’t waste what coach Jacques Lemaire called the team’s best performance of the young season.
David Clarkson scored with the man advantage with 3:35 left Saturday night to give the Devils a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers. The goal came less than two minutes after Stephen Weiss tied the game at 2 on a beautiful individual effort.
“A team with leadership and good veterans will keep coming,” Clarkson said. “The way we did it shows our leadership right there. When they score late in the game to tie it up, we don’t just give up and sit there. We came back out and made sure we were getting chances to come back and win the game.”
Travis Zajac had a power-play goal and an assist on the winner for New Jersey, which was 2-for-6 with the man advantage.
“We did a pretty good when we needed to,” Zajac said. “At the end when we had a chance to regain the lead we did a pretty good job on it.”
Rob Niedermayer also scored and Brian Rolston had two assists for New Jersey. The Devils have won the first two games of a three-game trip to even their record at 2-2.
“Overall, it’s probably our best game from the first minute to the last,” Lemaire said. “Through the whole game, we probably had one average shift.”
Rostislav Olesz had the other goal for Florida in the Panthers’ first game at the BankAtlantic Center this season. The Panthers (1-3) opened the season with two games against Chicago in Finland on Oct. 2-3 and were the designated home team for the second.
After six days off, the Panthers lost at Carolina, 7-2, on Friday night before facing the Devils.
“They were sitting here waiting for you while you were on the road the night before, it isn’t the perfect scenario,” Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. “Given the circumstances we gave ourselves a chance and it would have been nice to pick up a point.”
Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots to improve to 33-12-7 against Florida.
Tomas Vokoun made 38 saves for Florida.
Vokoun, who gave up five goals on 26 shots Friday night and was pulled early in the third period, kept the Panthers in the game. He stopped Jamie Langenbrunner on a partial breakaway midway through the third quarter to keep New Jersey’s lead at 2-1. Langenbrunner also hit the post in the first period.
New Jersey had a 23-4 shot advantage 5 minutes into the second period and ended up outshooting Florida 41-21.
“We wanted to stick with it because sometimes in games like that a bounce here, a bounce there, you’ve been playing so well and the momentum can turn like that,” said Niedermayer. “I thought we did a great job just sticking with our game plan. It was a big win for us.”
Clarkson scored when he one-timed Zajac’s pass in front of the net.
Weiss had tied it at 14:37 of the third with Florida’s first power-play goal of the season after 15 unsuccessful attempts. After crossing the blue line with speed, he skated around defenceman Johnny Oduya before flipping a shot over Brodeur.
“They talked about wanting to jump on us early, knowing we played last night. We knew they were going to try to force the issue. We were in the hockey game 2-2. You’ve got to find a way to bear down and get that point.”
Zajac broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period with his third goal of the season when he took a feed from Andy Greene in the high slot and fired a quick shot that beat Vokoun to the blocker side.
After a scoreless first period, New Jersey took a 1-0 lead at 11:14 when Niedermayer one-timed Paul Martin’s feed from behind the net.
The Panthers caught New Jersey in a line change to tie it at 13:58. Radek Dvorak got behind the New Jersey defence before feeding Olesz, who tipped the pass past Brodeur.
“They had the better legs tonight, they had more time of possession,” DeBoer said. “We were reaching and taking penalties because of that. We probably got the result we deserved. It would have been nice to steal a point for hanging around that long.”
NOTES: Florida is scoreless in the first period this season. … Florida D Bryan Allen sat out one night after being minus-5 in the loss at Carolina. Coach Pete DeBoer said this was planned all along as a precaution after Allen missed all but two games in 2008-09 because of a knee injury. … New Jersey will end its trip Monday in Washington. … D Cory Murphy, who spent part of last season with Florida, was one of three healthy scratches for New Jersey.