NEWARK, N.J. – Martin Brodeur watched a pair of Atlantic Division rivals skate off with wins that counted Saturday. He and the New Jersey Devils also won hours later, only that one was just for practice.
Brian Rolston and David Clarkson scored power-play goals in the second period for the Devils, who finished their pre-season schedule with a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It was good hockey. It was fun to watch,” the Devils goalie said of victories by the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins in NHL regular-season openers in Europe. “Then you come in and both of us have our full lineups and you’re like, ‘All right. let’s count this one. We’re ready to go.”‘
Not so fast. There is still nearly a week to go before the Devils hit the ice for keeps.
The Flyers (4-4) will play one more exhibition game, Tuesday at the Spectrum – their long-time former home scheduled for demolition next year – against their AHL team, the Phantoms. Philadelphia will start the season next Saturday when they host the Rangers.
New Jersey opens the night before at home against the New York Islanders.
With victories by the Rangers and Penguins on Saturday, Philadelphia and New Jersey are already two points behind in the division race. The Rangers will again face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Czech Republic on Sunday, and the Penguins will finish their two-game set versus the Ottawa Senators in Sweden.
“We hoped the other divisions would chip in a couple of points early on to help us out,” Brodeur said. “At the end of the day, we’re all going to play 82 games.”
New Jersey’s Bobby Holik and Simon Gagne of the Flyers traded man-advantage goals in the opening period, and Rolston snapped the tie 10:06 into the middle frame with his first tally since rejoining the Devils during the summer.
“We’re not really worried about Brian scoring goals,” forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. “He’s been doing a lot of good things out there, shooting the puck just like he was brought here to do.”
Flyers captain Mike Richards made it 3-2 at 9:06 of the third from above the right circle after Danny Briere had a clean faceoff win four seconds into a power play.
John Madden sealed it with a short-handed goal with 6:12 left, scoring into an empty net after goalie Martin Biron was caught way out of position. The game’s final two special-teams goals were scored while Holik sat in the box.
Briere got the Flyers within a goal again with 3:33 left.
Clarkson, who fought Richards in the first, made it 3-1 with 3.9 seconds left in the second. Langenbrunner started the play with a drive from inside the blue line that Biron blocked. Clarkson swept a shot wide right, and Zach Parise nearly put that rebound in at the left post with a backhander.
Given a second chance, Clarkson banged in the rebound to score his first goal in five pre-season games for the Devils (4-2-1).
Both teams iced lineups representative of what can be expected once the regular season begins. New Jersey made few changes from its roster Friday night in an overtime loss to the Islanders, but Brodeur came back from a night off and made 18 saves.
“We played a smart hockey game,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We did a lot of little things well.”
Biron stopped 25 shots for the Flyers, who lost 5-1 at Washington on Friday.
Gagne, a top-line forward limited to 25 games last season due to concussion-related problems, scored his first goal in four pre-season games with 3:39 left in the first.
“There is a process in the pre-season. You’re looking to get that first goal, and it helps your confidence to get better,” Gagne said. “It’s tough to get all there, and now the games are very fast.
“It’s great to have a chance to play at least four games before the season starts. Then I have a couple of more practices, so I should be close to where I want to be.”
Holik had given the Devils a 1-0 lead 4:21 earlier when he scored with a second whack at a rebound of Rolston’s hard drive during a 5-on-3 power play.
It was also Holik’s first goal in his second stint with the Devils following a five-season absence.