NEWARK, N.J. – A terrible start doomed the New Jersey Devils last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96.
Intent on avoiding another poor start, the Devils took a step in the right direction Monday afternoon with a solid 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. That evened New Jersey’s record at 1-1.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored the deciding goal and added two assists while Johan Hedberg made 24 saves.
“Everybody is in the same position right now,” Kovalchuk said. “You want to get as many wins as you can early because the season always goes up and down. You want the wins now to help yourself later on.”
Zach Parise had two goals and Mark Fayne added another for New Jersey, which beat Carolina for a sixth straight time at home. The Devils went seven games last year (0-5-2) before posting a win at the Prudential Center.
Hedberg, Martin Brodeur’s backup, drew the start after not making his first appearance last year until the eighth game. He improved to 4-0-0 over the last two seasons against the Hurricanes.
“No, nothing really surprises me any more,” said Hedberg when asked about his early appearance. “I’ve been in every situation there is, starting and backing up.
“I just play it day to day and always come prepared as well as I can for every game.”
Alexei Ponikarovsky and Chad LaRose scored for the Hurricanes (0-2-1) while goalie Cam Ward made 22 saves.
“We’re three games in now and you want to get that win as soon as you can,” said Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. “We’ve played decently in the last two games, but we just haven’t found one in the win column.”
The Devils, sluggish throughout their 3-0 opening-night home loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, got off to a livelier start against the Hurricanes with Parise scoring 3:59 into the game.
Parise, limited to only 13 games last year with a knee injury, deflected Patrik Elias’s shot from the blue-line past Ward for the Devils’ first goal of the season.
The Devils had the better chances throughout the first, outshooting the Hurricanes 11-8. The scoring tempo picked up in the second, which ended 2-2.
Ponikarovsky pulled Carolina even 1-1 at 8:56 with a soft shot from the high slot that found it’s way through a pile of players and past a screened Hedberg.
New Jersey countered 40 seconds later on a goal nicely engineered by Kovalchuk, who carried the puck into the Hurricanes’ zone before pulling up in the left circle. Kovalchuk waited for Fayne to join the play, hitting him with a cross-ice feed that the defenceman sent past Ward for a 2-1 lead.
Carolina pulled even again when LaRose rifled a shot under the crossbar at 12:47.
In the third, the Hurricanes had an excellent opportunity to take their first lead of the game with a 5-on-3 power play for 44 seconds. They got the extra-man advantage when Elias was whistled for goalie interference after crashing into Ward.
Jay Harrison had several big shots from the point but none beat Hedberg.
“It was the 5-on-3 that changed the game,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “After their first bout of shots, I thought we were pretty good right through to the third period.
“When it’s still 2-2 after the 5-on-3, then you are in trouble.”
The failure to cash in was costly, and the Devils regrouped with Kovalchuk putting New Jersey up 3-2 at 6:06. Jacob Josefson chipped the puck to Kovalchuk in the slot. Ward made the initial stop but was helpless as Kovalchuk converted his own rebound.
Hedberg preserved the victory in the final minutes with a pad stop on Harrison’s slapshot. Ponikarovsky killed any Carolina comeback hopes by picking up an interference penalty with 1:28 left.
Parise then scored into an empty net on a power play for his second of the game. Kovalchuk drew an assist as the Devils top two offensive threats combined for three goals and five points
“When you are 2-2 going into the third period, those are the two guys you are counting on,” said Peter DeBoer, who got his first win as Devilshead coach.
NOTES: This was the second of a three-game homestand for the Devils to start the season. They host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. … The Hurricanes play six of their first eight on the road. … The Devils scratches were D Mark Fraser, C Rod Pelley and RW Cam Janssen. The Hurricanes’ scratches were defencemen Jamie McBain, Derek Joslin and Ryan Murphy. … Devils RW David Clarkson played his 300th game. … Parise scored his first goals since Oct. 23, 2010. … The Hurricanes are off to their worst start since opening 2006-07 season on an 0-3-1 slide.