NEWARK, N.J. – With their faint playoff hopes on the line, the New Jersey Devils got away with dreadful start against the Florida Panthers.
Patrik Elias scored twice, David Clarkson had the go-ahead goal and an assist and the Devils rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 6-2 victory Saturday.
“Obviously, we woke up a little bit late,” Elias said after his 51st career, two-goal game. “The first five or 10 minutes, we didn’t get going at all. After that, we gave ourselves a chance with the power-play goal. Obviously, in the second and third, we took over.”
The defending Eastern Conference champions came into the game knowing that if they lost in regulation, they would not make the playoffs.
While they won this one, they need to win their final four game in this lockout-shortened season to have any chance of getting to the post-season. The must-win scenario will continue Sunday when they face the Rangers in New York.
Any combination of two points—either a Rangers win or a Devils loss or points gained or lost in overtime—will leave end New Jersey’s hopes.
“We’re working hard. We’re trying to change something,” said Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who only faced 13 shots, including six over the final 40 minutes. “We don’t know if we’ll be able to because it’s not up to us. Our chances are really low, even if win all of our games. We’re happy that we’re still going to play for something tomorrow. “
Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Dainius Zubrus also scored as New Jersey won its second in a row after a 10-game losing streak (0-6-4).
The contest marked the return of Ilya Kovalchuk to the lineup after he missed 11 games with a shoulder injury. He didn’t have a point but had his chances.
Marcel Goc and Brian Campbell scored for the NHL-worst Panthers, who have lost five straight.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said his team played a sloppy game.
“As this season is working toward game 48, our commitment to defence has waned and hasn’t been strong enough,” he said. “We’re too easy to play against, and hence we are giving up five or six goals every game on this road trip.”
Things didn’t look good for the Devils when the Panthers scored twice in the opening 7:05. Despite its dismal record, Florida was 10-3-2 in games it scored first and New Jersey was 3-16-6 when the opposition went ahead.
In this game, it didn’t matter. The Devils won going away, getting four goals on 17 shots against Jacob Markstrom in the second period.
A big hit by Clarkson on Campbell with just over 7 minutes left in the first period seemed to ignite the Devils, and it eventually led to a power play.
“That was the most fun I’ve had in a game in while,” Clarkson said. “It seemed like we weren’t chasing the puck. We were making plays, skating out of the zone.”
Elias closed the gap to 2-1 by splitting the defence and beating Markstrom with a shot from between the circles. He tied the score early in the second period after Travis Zajac blocked a clearing pass and sent the puck to Clarkson, who found Elias coming down the middle for his 13th goal of the season.
Clarkson gave the Devils a 3-2 lead at 10:45 of the second period on a similar play. Alexei Ponikarovsky stopped a clearing pass at the point and sent the puck to Zajac, who found Clarkson alone.
Carter scored in close at 14:11 for a 4-2 lead, and he made a steal at the blue line to set up Gionta for a 5-2 lead. Zubrus closed out the scoring in the third period on a power play.
Brodeur prevented any chance of a Florida comeback, making a pad save on a penalty shot by Quinton Howden 39 seconds into the third period.
The return of Kovalchuk didn’t spark the Devils. In fact, he was on the ice when the Panthers took their lead.
“I feel good,” said Kovalchuk, who had three shots in almost 23 minutes of ice time. “The first couple of shifts I was not nervous but not in game shape. After the first five minutes I got a couple of hits and I felt more comfortable. “
Goc’s second goal in three games was on the power play and it was set up by an excellent cross-ice pass from Tomas Fleischmann. Brodeur didn’t have a chance to stop the shot under the crossbar.
Campbell’s first goal in 12 games came just 55 seconds later. Mike Weaver passed the puck from the right point to his defence partner on the left side and his shot from the top of the circle found the upper corner of the net.
NOTES: The national anthem was sung by the Blue Collar Quartet, with the singers wearing the jerseys of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins to honour the city of Boston. …Cheers of “Kovy! Kovy!” greeted Kovalchuk on his first shift. … Brodeur, who was making his 14th straight start, got an assist on Elias’ goal and now has a goal and two assists this season. … Elias’ power-play goal was the Devils’ first in last 23 attempts. … Florida has been outscored 17-5 in its last three games. …The Panthers finish a four-game trip in Boston on Sunday.