New Jersey scores four first-period goals en route to 5-2 win over Tampa Bay

TAMPA, Fla. – The struggling New Jersey Devils rediscovered their offence against an upper-tier Eastern Conference team.

Brian Rolston and Travis Zajac each had a goal and an assist in a four-goal first period as the Devils beat the Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2 on Friday night.

“I think the guys started to believe that if they work together, they’ll have a better chance to score than working on their own,” New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire said.

Ilya Kovalchuk scored twice and Patrik Elias had the other as the Devils snapped an 11-game road losing skid. The slide by the team with the NHL’s worst record (12-29-2) was just one off the franchise record of 12, set from Oct. 19 to Dec. 1, 1983.

“You could tell because every time we’d take the bus everybody’s sad or mad or not happy,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. “At least for the time being we’ll be able to talk to each other on the bus on the way to the airport.”

Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos scored his 32nd goal of the season to tie Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead. Martin St. Louis added a goal for the Lightning, 2-12 against New Jersey since the start of the 2007-08 season.

“When you give Jacques’ team a lead, you’re asking for trouble,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said.

After Stamkos scored a power-play goal on the Lightning’s first shot at 5:06 of the first, the Devils countered with four straight goals—Kovalchuk (7:59), Rolston (9:19), Elias (11:44) and Zajac (15:54)—to take a 4-1 lead after the first.

“It’s unacceptable for us to get behind by that much,” Stamkos said.

Zajac’s short-handed effort gave New Jersey its 80th goal this season, with nine coming in two periods against Tampa Bay. The Devils scored five times during the third in their previous game Sunday, a 6-3 win over the Lightning.

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“I think for the most part we frustrated them,” Zajac said. “We have to continue to play like that if we want to win games.”

New Jersey has won consecutive games just two times this season.

St. Louis cut the deficit to 4-2 when he lifted a backhand shot over Brodeur on a breakaway with 5:05 left in the second.

Stamkos assisted on St. Louis’ goal for his 200th NHL point, coming in his 206th game.

Kovalchuk extended the New Jersey advantage to 5-2 at 13:40 of the third.

Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson, bidding for his 200th NHL victory, was pulled with four minutes left in the first after allowing four goals on nine shots.

Brodeur made 30 saves and improved to 33-15-7 in 57 games against the Lightning. The 38-year old, 7-18-1 this season, has an NHL-best 609 wins overall.

“He’s had a rough go and he’s taken a lot of heat, and he was awesome for us tonight,” Rolston said.

NOTES: Stamkos, playing with an undisclosed minor injury, stopped a personal six-game goal drought. The centre has seven goals in 10 games against New Jersey. … Lemaire won his 250th game as New Jersey coach. … Devils D Anton Volchenkov missed his second straight game following the death of his father. … Tampa Bay has allowed eight short-handed goals this season. … The Devils have held the lead after two periods just nine times this season (8-0-1). … Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier has gone eight straight games without scoring a goal. He had an assist, but wound up minus-3 in the game.