NEWARK, N.J. – If the New Jersey Devils want to get back to the playoffs, coach Pete DeBoer said his best players had to step up for the stretch run.
In their first game after the Olympic break, that’s exactly what the goal-starved Devils got.
Adam Henrique scored twice, Jaromir Jagr netted the 699th goal of his career and Patrik Elias had a goal and two assists to lead New Jersey to a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
“It’s not rocket science,” Elias said. “We could have said that about 20 other guys. We’re not scoring enough going into the break. We were scoring one or two goals and losing. That’s not enough to win a hockey game.”
The Devils got more than enough in the first period as Ryane Clowe ignited a three-goal outburst in a 2:45 span early in the period. It marked only the second time this season New Jersey opened a game with three goals in the opening 20 minutes.
“I think we stressed it (scoring) for a week and to score three early gives you some confidence,” Clowe said. “The key is, and I think it is overlooked, you can’t play uptight and you can’t worry about it. You have to play free and loose and to be able to score two on the power play and one short-handed was big.”
The biggest goal of the contests might have been Henrique’s with 18 seconds left in the second period.
Columbus had drawn within a goal at 3-2 on goals by Artem Anisimov and Marian Gaborik and it had a power play late in the period.
However, Elias alley-ooped a pass to Henrique for a breakaway goal after defenceman Jack Johnson could not handle a puck at the point.
“That’s a super skill play,” DeBoer said of the pass. “Not many guys in the world can make that pass.”
Henrique finished it off with a shot between Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads for his 16th goal of the season.
“I think it took a little wind out of their sails, going back up by two heading into the third,” Henrique said after the third two-goal game of his career.
Cory Schneider made 17 saves as New Jersey salvaged the final game of its four-game season series with Columbus (1-2-1).
The Devils, who had the NHL’s second-fewest goals (135) before the break, never trailed after the rare goal binge.
Clowe got them going with a shot from the right circle on what seemingly was a three-for-one chance. Bobrovsky saved his first shot. The second was blocked and came back to Clowe, who tallied his fourth goal of the season on his third attempt.
Special teams took over from there.
With James Wisniewski off for interference, Bobrovsky made an outstanding stop on a rebound attempt by Jagr. The 42-year-old Czech got the rebound and stickhandled the puck around the prone goaltender and deposited into the net at 7:31. It was his 18th goal of the season and left him one shy of becoming the NHL’s seventh member of the 700-goal club.
Henrique pushed the lead to 3-0 at 8:54 by deflecting Andy Greene’s point shot with Ryan Johansen off for hooking.
Columbus coach Todd Richards called a time out after the goal and it settled the Blue Jackets, who had been 12-5-1 since Jan. 1.
“We have to get rolling again,” Blue Jackets defenceman Ryan Murray said. “That was not our hockey. We got outshot 35-19, and that’s not our game getting outshot and getting outplayed.”
Anisimov got the Blue Jackets on the board with a gift from Schneider on a bad-angle shot. Gaborik, who had missed Columbus’ last 22 games with a broken collarbone, cut the margin to 3-2 at 11:42 of the second period by knocking a puck out of the air and beating Schneider in close.
The short-handed goal at the end of the period gave the Devils some breathing room. Elias scored into an empty net in the final minute.
“I don’t think our forecheck or execution was where it needed to be,” Columbus centre Brandon Dubinsky said. “We have to get better for next game.”
NOTES: The Devils, who were 0 for 12 on the power play in their last four games before the break, scored on their first two power plays. The Blue Jackets had killed off 23 straight penalties in their final five games before the break. … The three-goal period was only the sixth of the season for New Jersey, one goal shy of its season high against Carolina in November. … Columbus will be without D Fedor Tyutin for a couple of weeks because of an ankle injury suffered in the Olympics. … New Jersey lost RW Damien Brunner with lower-body injury after the first period.