NEWARK, N.J. – Nothing about Zach Parise’s game can be called punchless these days.
The Devils’ leading scorer netted his third goal in two games, dropped his gloves for the first time in the NHL and rode shotgun on Patrik Elias’ overtime winner in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.
Outlasting the lowest team in the East vaulted the Devils back into first place in the conference with 14 games remaining.
“Let’s face it, it’s a playoff race now,” Parise said. “It’s been for the last 10 games. It’s going to be like this the rest of the season.”
Parise’s 28th goal staked the Devils to a 1-0 lead in the first period. He was on Elias’ left during a 2-on-1 in overtime, and tapped his stick to let his linemate know he was there. When defenceman Paul Ranger took away the passing lane, Elias fired a shot that overpowered the glove of Karri Ramo and found its way in at 4:02.
“It just kind of went through me, I don’t know,” Ramo said. “I thought I had it. It went through my arm.”
It was Elias’ eighth winning goal of the season, his Devils-record 60th, and his 14th in overtime – a franchise mark.
“We’re getting the wins, and that’s the bottom line,” Elias said.
The Devils have won two straight following an 0-2-1 skid. New Jersey is doing it without much firepower, netting only 10 goals in six games – including a 4-1 win at Toronto on Tuesday.
Ramo was sharp in making 31 saves in his first game since a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Feb. 21.
Martin Brodeur wasn’t tested as much, but finished with 21 saves for his 37th win.
“We’ve had plenty of those games where you’re comfortable Marty is not going to give any more up and you have a chance to score the goals,” Parise said. “This team for years has been winning games like that. I don’t think anyone is squeezing their sticks when it gets close.”
Michel Ouellet tied it in the second for Tampa Bay, 1-7-2 in its previous 10.
Vincent Lecavalier, who scored an NHL-best 52 goals last season, went a 12th straight game without one – his worst stretch in seven years – and Martin St. Louis has just two assists in 10 games.
“We haven’t scored goals,” Lightning coach John Tortorella said. “That falls on our core people.”
New Jersey jumped over idle Montreal and Pittsburgh to reclaim first in the East for the first time since Feb. 29 with 84 points, one more than the Canadiens and Penguins.
Ouellet had tied it 1-1 with 2:30 left in the second period on Tampa Bay’s second power-play chance and just the Lightning’s sixth in four games.
Dan Boyle sent a pass from the right point to the left-circle dot for a shot by Ouellet that got by Brodeur. Ouellet has 12 goals this season, five in the past seven games.
Boyle didn’t see much of the third period as he received 19 minutes of penalties after punching Parise and instigating a fight 3:47 in that also earned him a misconduct. The playmaking defenceman came in with only 26 penalty minutes in 22 games this season.
Parise said it was his first major since he played midget hockey.
“He tried to slew-foot me and then got me in the face,” Parise said. “I don’t think I remember what happened after that. I’ve seen a lot of things this year when you think guys would get an instigator and they didn’t.
“I wouldn’t say that he jumped me. It was more of a mutual agreement. It was OK. It was fun.”
The Lightning killed off the ensuing four-minute power play, making the Devils scoreless in five advantages. Ramo was Tampa Bay’s best penalty-killer, making a quick save on Brian Gionta’s spin shot in front.
“He kept them in the game,” Elias said. “We had very good power-play opportunities. He saw a lot of the pucks and made a lot of good saves.”
New Jersey took the early lead with a pretty passing play that finished with Parise’s 28th goal and third in two games with 7:44 left in the first period.
Notes: Devils D Colin White was injured when hit in the second period by Lightning RW Junior Lessard. New Jersey coach Brent Sutter went to check with White to see if he would make the trip to Toronto. The Devils already know they will be without Paul Martin (foot), who will sit out Saturday for a fourth straight game. … The Lightning recalled LW Karl Stewart from Norfolk (AHL) and put him in the lineup in place of Andre Roy, who was sent home after making a slashing motion toward the Philadelphia bench on Thursday.