NEWARK, N.J. – Best in the East. Best in the West. Low scoring. High scoring.
It doesn’t matter who or how the New Jersey Devils play these days. Nothing is getting in the way of winning.
David Clarkson scored his second goal of the game on a power play with 3:32 to play and the Devils completed a sweep of the top teams in the Eastern and Western conferences with a wild 6-5 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
Brian Gionta, Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner also scored as the Devils won for the 13th time in 15 games. This latest win came two days after blanking the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins 1-0.
“This shows the versatility and the confidence level that this team has in each other,” Devils goaltender Scott Clemmensen said. “It also shows we can adapt and respond to adversity. These are all character building blocks we have in place that show how we get wins against different teams, different styles, no matter what.”
After taking a 5-4 lead and then giving up a short-handed goal to Joe Pavelski midway through the third period to tie the game at 5-all, the Devils converted on the power play for the third time in the final 20 minutes to win their fourth straight game.
Rolston took a shot from straight on and Clarkson got just enough of the puck so it dribbled past goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. It marked the second time New Jersey scored with Joe Thornton in the penalty box.
“I think it’s important that you battle against teams like Boston and San Jose, and win games for various reasons,” forward John Madden said. “One being they are the elite teams in the league and everybody measures themselves by them. But also it boosts our confidence so we know we’re in the right position to move forward.”
Devin Setoguchi, Jonathan Cheechoo, Patrick Marleau and Rob Blake tallied for San Jose, which wrapped up a five-game road trip with a 1-1-3 mark.
“I think we deserved better,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the trip. “We’re going home with five of 10 points and we had a chance for 10 of 10, and we were right there again tonight. It’s a mistake here, a save there that makes a difference, and we are not getting them offensively or defensively. We have to tighten up in a couple of areas.”
Clemmensen, who had shutouts in his past two starts, had to make two saves on a late Sharks’ power play to preserve the win, his 25th of the season, the second-most by any Devils’ goaltender.
The game between two of the NHL’s top defensive teams was hardly what anyone expected with the teams combining for 11 goals on 61 shots.
The Devils led 3-2 after the first, trailed 4-3 after the second, went in front 5-4 early in the third only to see Pavelski tied the game with a short-handed goal with less than 10 minutes to play on a great individual effort.
He picked up a turnover at centre ice, skated around Rolston and backhanded a shot into the top corner past Clemmensen.
Elias and Langenbrunner put the Devils ahead with power-play goals set up by Zach Parise. Elias tied the game at four-all on a two-man advantage and Langenbrunner got his 10th in the past 15 games on a rebound three minutes later.
“The PK (penalty kill) needs to be better,” said Blake after the Sharks gave up three power-play goals for the second straight game. “You take a lead into the third and you give up three power-play goals and that has to be shut down completely.”
Setoguchi had given the Sharks a 4-3 lead in the closing seconds of the second period, scoring on a two-man advantage. Cheechoo had tied the game at three-all with a slapshot from the right circle.
While the Sharks and Devils came into the game ranked among the league’s top four in goals against, the first period was anything but defensive with five pucks finding the back of the net as New Jersey took a 3-2 lead.
An early giveaway in the San Jose zone allowed Gionta to tip a shot past Nabokov 30 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Blake tied the game about four minutes later with a blistering slapshot after a New Jersey turnover.
Rolston scored in close around the eight-minute mark on a nice setup by Madden, but Marleau tied the game less than a minute later, getting his 30th of the season on a deflection during a power play.
Clarkson gave the Devils the lead with a turnaround shot from between the circles that Nabokov had a hard time seeing with Madden in front.
Notes: Devils D Paul Martin (upper body) and RW Brendan Shanahan (foot) were late scratches. … Sharks D Dan Boyle, who recently missed three games with an upper-body injury, was scratched. … There was a moment of silence for the victims of the commuter plane that crashed near Buffalo, with the Devils singling out Maddy Loftus, 24, of Parsippany, N.J., who was headed to Buffalo State for a reunion of the women’s ice hockey team she played for in 2002 and 2003.