NEWARK, N.J. – There is a reason the New Jersey Devils are leading the Eastern Conference. Whatever happens, they just seem to find a way to get the job done.
Against the Philadelphia Flyers Friday night, a two-goal deficit after 20 minutes didn’t prove a problem.
David Clarkson scored on a deflection at 10:43 of the third period and Steve Bernier added an empty-net goal as the Devils rolled to a 5-3 win, their fifth in six games.
“After we were down, we just had to get back to play the way the Devils’ play,” Clarkson said after scoring his team-high 10th goal. “We never hit the panic button as a team. We did a lot of good things in the second and third periods when we needed it. We had to come on like that after being down.”
There were a lot of contributors to New Jersey’s second win over the Flyers in as many games.
Travis Zajac, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Patrik Elias scored the Devils’ other goals with Ilya Kovalchuk getting the primary assist on each. Martin Brodeur made 25 saves and helped start the comeback with an assist on Ponikarovsky’s tally 26 seconds into the second period.
“I got the opportunity to play the puck a lot tonight. It’s always nice to get a helper,” Brodeur said of his 41st career assist. “When we started in the second, I knew we had a chance to break out, so I got it out there to Kovy, who was wide open, so I sort of threw him the Hail Mary.
The biggest goal, of course, was Clarkson’s. He redirected a point shot by defenceman Adam Larrson past Ilya Bryzgalov.
“I don’t know what it is, but I just keep going to the goal and eventually I’m going to get a chance to score,” said Clarkson, who is showing his career-high 30-goal season a year ago wasn’t a fluke. “A lot of it is just being in the right area. The biggest thing is that we’re winning and we’re getting the scoring spread out.”
Wayne Simmonds, Mike Knuble and Matt Read scored in a first-period onslaught for the Flyers, who are 2-7 on the road this season. Bryzgalov had 15 saves for Philadelphia, which played the third period without leading defenceman Kimmo Timonen (lower body injury).
“I mean guys were skating hard today,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who had two assists. “It’s a hard rink to play in. We got a 3-1 lead, we have to find a way to get it done. We have to learn from this.”
The Devils scored on the first shot of the game, then watched the Flyers score three goals in a 2:36 span later in the first period to take a 3-1 lead. New Jersey scored two goals in the second period to tie the game at 3-all.
Kovalchuk set up the game-tying goal, intercepting a pass by Timonen deep in the Philadelphia zone and finding Elias between the circles for a shot that Bryzgalov got a piece of but couldn’t stop.
Ponikarovsky, who was acquired from Winnipeg on Wednesday after Dainius Zubrus was put on the injured list, had cut the Flyers’ lead to 3-2 just 26 seconds into the second period with a shot from the left circle. Brodeur started the play with a long pass to Kovalchuk near the Philadelphia blue line. He found Ponikarovsky coming down the left side for an uncontested snap shot high into the net.
“Like I said, I think we were on the attack in the first period, and the second and third not quite as much,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “The second and third, they picked up their game a little bit and had their chances and scored on them.”
Simmonds, Knuble and Read had all but silenced the Devils fans in the building with their outburst midway through the opening period.
Simmonds got the red light turning, beating Brodeur in close on a power play at 9:27 after Brayden Schenn misfired on a shot from between the circles.
Knuble got his second of the season with a rising shot from between the circles that seemed to fool Brodeur after Stephen Gionta went down to block it. Ruslan Fedotenko set up the goal with a nice pass from the side boards.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer then called a timeout to settle his team down.
It didn’t work. Defenceman Mark Fayne had a clearing pass intercepted in the right circle by Giroux and he found Read alone in the left circle for a shot that zipped past Brodeur at 12:03.
Zajac had given the Devils the lead 40 seconds after the opening faceoff. Kovalchuk picked up the puck near his own blue line, skated into the Flyers’ zone and found his centre in the left circle for a quick shot that beat Bryzgalov. It was Zajac’s first goal since the team’s met here on Jan. 22.
NOTES: Giroux appeared in his 300th NHL game. … The Flyers and Devils will meet three more times this season. … The assist was Brodeur’s first since February 2013 versus Pittsburgh. … Flyers LW Scott Hartnell, who broke his left foot in the first game against the Devils here on Jan. 22, skated Friday and is expected to be sidelined another week, general manager Paul Holmgren said. … Read has goals in three of the last five games and leads the Flyers with six goals.